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2010s Long Island Ducks All-Decade Team

Ducks-All-Decade-Team

The current decade officially comes to a close at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, January 1. At that point, the past 10 years of Ducks baseball officially wraps up and a new chapter begins to be written in the history of the franchise. The first decade of Ducks baseball from 2000-09 saw attendance records be broken, the successful start of professional baseball on Long Island and six consecutive postseason berths. Although the franchise did win its first Atlantic League Championship in 2004, the remainder of the decade saw the club have the opportunity to win a title but come up short in their quest of doing so.

However, the same cannot be said for the current decade that is about to end. As detailed last week, the Ducks were certainly the class of the ALPB during the 2010s. Long Island won three Atlantic League Championships, including back-to-back trophies in 2012 and 2013 and another just this past season. It saw the team earn Liberty Division Championships in seven of the 10 seasons and reach the postseason in eight of them. Add that with more attendance milestones being reached and dozens of player contracts being purchased by Major League Baseball and foreign professional leagues, the 2010s decade is certainly one for the record books for the Ducks and their fans.

Before we put a bow on the 10 years that was, now is as good a time as ever to highlight the best players to wear the Ducks uniform during the decade. Given the success of the era and all impactful names that came through Central Islip, picking out just a select few is no easy task. However, our blog staff did their best to determine the select few who earned a rightful place on the 2010s Ducks All-Decade Team:

CATCHER: J.R. HOUSE
House

House posted one of the most prolific seasons by a catcher in ALPB history. The backstop hit .305 during the incredible 2011 season with 19 home runs, 81 RBIs, 73 runs, 128 hits, 22 doubles and a .365 on-base percentage over 113 games. He also did not make a single error defensively all year, as the former Major Leaguer helped the Ducks reach the Atlantic League Championship Series.

FIRST BASE: DAVID WASHINGTON
Washington

Few players in Ducks history have showcased the power that David Washington has. He helped the Ducks reach the Atlantic League Championship Series in 2018 then returned and won it all in 2019. The former big leaguer combined to hit 47 home runs, drive in 131 runs and score 122 over 217 games during the past two seasons. He also had a flair for the dramatic, highlighted by his game-winning blast in Game Three of the 2018 ALCS.

SECOND BASE: CODY PUCKETT
Puckett

Puckett was a model of consistency for the Ducks over his first three seasons in a Ducks uniform. While playing both second and third base, he played over 120 games, hit over .270 and scored over 60 runs in each. He suffered a knee injury in 2017 that ended his season early before returning to play a full season in 2018, totaling five seasons in a Ducks uniform. In that time, he helped the Flock to four playoff berths and three Liberty Division Championships.

SHORTSTOP: DAN LYONS
Lyons

The Ducks all-time leader in games played with 888, Lyons became a fixture at shortstop during the decade. In eight seasons with the Flock (2011-18), he totaled 40 homers, 353 RBIs, 423 runs and 755 hits. Not to mention, he earned three Atlantic League All-Star selections (2012, 2015, 2016), the Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year Award (2015), two Atlantic League Championships (2012, 2013) and Championship Series MVP honors (2012).

THIRD BASE: BRYANT NELSON
Nelson

“Nelly” was a key contributor to the Ducks back-to-back ALPB Championships in 2012 and 2013. He played over 120 games, collected over 70 RBIs, totaled over 135 hits, scored 72 runs, and hit 30 doubles in each season. The former Red Sox player also earned an Atlantic League All-Star nod during the 2013 season and is one of the league’s all-time greats, spending 11 seasons in the circuit between 2006 and 2016 and playing more games than anyone else (1,013).

LEFT FIELD: LEW FORD
Ford

One of the most beloved players in franchise history, Ford has fashioned a 10-year Ducks career as a player and now coach, all but one of which have come in this decade. He is the Ducks all-time hitting leader with a .320 batting average. The six-year MLB veteran has totaled 921 hits, 75 home runs, 448 RBIs and 483 runs over 751 games with the Flock. He’s been a part of three Atlantic League Championship teams, seven Liberty Division Championship squads, was the 2014 Atlantic League Player of the Year and is a three-time Atlantic League All-Star.

CENTER FIELD: KRAIG BINICK
Binick

Binick burst onto the scene in 2011 when he won the Atlantic League batting title, hitting .343 with the Ducks. He also led the league in on-base percentage (.429), stolen base percentage (.894) and stolen bases (42) that year. The Hicksville native ended up spending three seasons with the Ducks (2011-13), reaching the Atlantic League Championship Series in each and winning two titles along the way. Binick also hit .352 in 26 playoff games.

RIGHT FIELD: ADAM BAILEY
Bailey

Bailey demonstrated great power during his two seasons with the Ducks and secured the final out of the team’s 2013 Atlantic League Championship. In 2013 and 2014, he combined to total 35 home runs, 146 RBIs, 119 runs, 277 hits and 47 doubles in 261 games. Bailey also earned a 2014 Atlantic League All-Star Game selection.

DESIGNATED HITTER: RAY NAVARRETE
Navarrete

The legendary #16 played the back half of his eight-year Ducks career during the decade and helped lead the Flock to two Atlantic League Championships. He also earned ALPB All-Star selections in 2010 and 2012. Navarrete set the Atlantic League record for doubles in a single-season with 50 in 2012, and one year later, hit a legendary three-run homer in Game Five of the Atlantic League Championship Series, his final game in a Ducks uniform. He closed his Ducks career as the franchise leader in hits (963), homers (137), RBIs (548), runs (599), doubles (245) and games played (863) before Dan Lyons broke the latter.

STARTING PITCHER: JOHN BROWNELL
Brownell

We follow up one franchise legend with another in the great #7, John Brownell. Arguably the greatest starting pitcher in team history, he spent seven seasons with the Flock from 2012-18. In that time, he became the franchise record holder in wins (65), strikeouts (755), innings pitched (1,005) and starts (154). He also set Ducks single-season records for starts (29, 2014), complete games (7, 2013), innings pitched (202.0, 2014) and strikeouts (147, 2016). The righty earned two Atlantic League Championships as well as Championship Series MVP honors in 2013. He was also named the league’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 and an All-Star selection in 2017.

CLOSER: LEO ROSALES
Rosales

Thanks in part to Rosales’ work on the mound, the Ducks were able to capture consecutive championships in 2012 and 2013. Acquired in a 2012 trade with Camden for outfielder Reid Gorecki, he spent three seasons overall with the Flock, appearing in 54 games and posting 28 saves, a 1.98 ERA, 59 strikeouts and just 24 walks over 54.2 innings. The former big leaguer recorded the save to wrap up the 2013 Atlantic League Championship and earned an Atlantic League All-Star selection 2013 as well.

MANAGER: KEVIN BAEZ
Baez

Much of the Ducks success during the decade can be contributed to the work done by Kevin Baez as manager. From 2011-18, he guided the Flock to seven playoff appearances, six Liberty Division Championships (including two stretches of three in a row) and two Atlantic League Championships. The former Ducks infielder also managed in three Atlantic League All-Star Games during the decade (2012, 2013, 2018).

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Bobby Blevins – Spent parts of five seasons with the Ducks (2012-16) and earned two Atlantic League Championships in the process. Went 15-11 with a 3.23 ERA and 212 strikeouts over 50 games (47 starts) during his first four seasons with the Flock. Turned in three quality starts during the playoffs with Long Island, including both decisive Game Five matchups in 2012.

Delta Cleary Jr. – Played three seasons with the Ducks (2015-17) and hit .297 with 139 RBIs, 172 runs, 395 hits, 52 doubles, eight triples and 91 stolen bases. Reached the playoffs each season and the Atlantic League Championship Series twice.

Amalio Diaz – Appeared in parts of four seasons with the Flock (2015-17, 2019) and was a major piece of the bullpen during each of the first three years. Recorded 34 saves and 204 strikeouts to just 44 walks over 167 innings in a Ducks uniform, compiling a 2.53 ERA. 2017 Atlantic League All-Star.

Mike Loree – Turned in arguably the best single season by a pitcher in franchise history during the 2011 season when he won the pitching Triple Crown. Led the Atlantic League with 14 wins, a 1.98 ERA and 131 strikeouts to win the league’s Pitcher of the Year honors. Had his contract purchased during the season by the Pirates, came back to pitch in the playoffs, then returned in 2012 before heading having his contract purchased again by the Chinese Professional Baseball League.

L.J. Mazzilli – Instrumental in the team’s 2019 Atlantic League Championship, leading the team in hits, RBIs, runs, total bases and doubles while ranking eighth in the Atlantic League in batting (.293) and 10th in RBIs (74). Also batted .400 with 12 hits in eight playoff games. 2019 Atlantic League All-Star.

Deibinson Romero – Earned 2019 Atlantic League Championship Series MVP honors after hitting .444 with two homers and nine RBIs during the series against Sugar Land. Batted .357 with three homers and 11 RBIs in the playoffs after joining the Ducks midseason and hitting .268 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs. 2019 Atlantic League All-Star.

Jordany Valdespin – Earned Atlantic League Player of the Year and Baseball America Independent Leagues Player of the Year honors in 2018 after leading the league in hits (154), runs (94) and triples (7).

 

 

20th Anniversary Team Voting – Manager

Harrelson-McCormack-Baez

19 seasons of Long Island Ducks baseball have come and gone. Players from all around the world and of all varieties of baseball experience have worn the Ducks uniform since the first pitch on April 28, 2000. In that time, they have played in front of nearly 8 million fans in Central Islip, and millions more around the rest of the country. Those players and coaches have also earned three Atlantic League Championships, seven Division Championships, 13 half-season Division Championships and over 1,300 victories. As the Ducks 20th Anniversary Season, presented by Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, approaches, it is time to determine which members of the Flock have stood above the rest.

Our final week of voting is upon us! We have gone through the entire lineup of position players and pitchers over the past several months, and fans have done a terrific job of voting to help decide which players will be represented on the 20th Anniversary Team. While this exclusive group looks fantastic thus far, it still needs one important thing: a manager. During the team’s first 19 seasons of play, a total of five different men held the position of field manager for the Ducks. Each one of them had previous Major League experience and quickly became fan favorites on Long Island. While all five found success with the Ducks, only three were selected as nominees. Here are the candidates:


Bud Harrelson
Buddy Harrelson Action Shot

The first manager in Ducks history was also one of the people who helped bring professional baseball to Long Island. Co-owner Bud Harrelson served as the skipper during the team’s inaugural season of 2000. Already a fan favorite in the area after playing shortstop on the New York Mets 1969 World Series championship team and coaching for the team’s World Series triumph in 1986, Buddy became even more beloved in this new role. During the Ducks first season of play, Harrelson led Long Island to a fabulous 82-58 record during the regular season. That mark was tied for the most wins and best winning percentage in the Atlantic League in 2000, dead even with the Nashua Pride, and the 82 victories are still the most in a single-season in franchise history. Six of Harrelson’s players also earned ALPB All-Star Game selections. Unfortunately for Bud and the Ducks, Long Island finished second in the North Division during both the first and second halves of the season, shockingly leaving them outside of the playoff picture. Despite that fact, the 2000 team remains one of the most special in club history, thanks in large part to Buddy’s “loosie goosie” style.


Don McCormack
Don McCormack Action Shot

After Harrelson moved into the role of first base coach in 2001, the second manager in team history was Don McCormack. Our second nominee for the manager position brought two seasons of MLB experience playing with the Philadelphia Phillies to Long Island, and he proceeded to serve as Ducks manager for six seasons from 2001-06. The highlight of his tenure came in 2004 when he exorcised the Ducks postseason demons, leading the Flock to the first half North Division title and their first playoff appearance. After finishing the regular season at 65-61, the Ducks overcame a loss in their postseason opener and reeled off five straight wins, all by one run, to earn the first Atlantic League championship in team history. McCormack accrued a regular season record of 399-371 during his time with the Ducks and a 6-5 postseason mark, guiding the team to three consecutive playoff berths from 2004-06. His 344 victories stood as the club’s managerial record until the third nominee on our list overtook him.


Kevin Baez
Kevin Baez Action Shot

Kevin Baez is the only manager in team history to have played with the club before eventually serving as its manager. He spent four seasons as a player for the Flock from 2002-05 and was a key contributor to Long Island’s 2004 Atlantic League championship team, winning All-Star Game MVP honors that season. After serving on the Ducks coaching staff for six seasons, he was named the team’s manager in 2011. The Brooklyn native proceeded to lead the Ducks to two Atlantic League championships, six Liberty Division titles and seven half-season Liberty Division titles in his eight seasons at the helm. Baez guided the Flock to their back-to-back league titles in 2012 and 2013, becoming the first person in league history to win a championship as both a player and manager. The former New York Mets infielder managed in three Atlantic League All-Star Games as well (2012, 2013, 2018), leading the Liberty Division to a 4-3 walk-off win in the 2018 event at Long Island’s Bethpage Ballpark. His 502 wins are most in franchise history by a manager, and he compiled a 502-459 regular season record along with a 24-22 postseason mark.


The final chance to vote for the 20th Anniversary Team has arrived. Who will round out this exclusive group of talented Ducks? It’s up to you to help choose. Cast your vote for Harrelson, McCormack or Baez over the next week by clicking the button below. The winner, along with the remainder of the 20th Anniversary Team, will be unveiled at the beginning of the 2019 season!

20th-Anniversary-Team-Voting-Button-Manager

Thank you to all who helped select the members of the Long Island Ducks 20th Anniversary Team. The winners will all be unveiled in the 20th Anniversary Commemorative Yearbook, which is slated to be available starting on Opening Night at Bethpage Ballpark (Friday, May 3rd).

20th Anniversary Team Voting – Shortstop

Baez-Alfonzo-Lyons

19 seasons of Long Island Ducks baseball have come and gone. Players from all around the world and of all varieties of baseball experience have worn the Ducks uniform since the first pitch on April 28, 2000. In that time, they have played in front of nearly 8 million fans in Central Islip, and millions more around the rest of the country. Those players and coaches have also earned three Atlantic League Championships, seven Division Championships, 13 half-season Division Championships and over 1,300 victories. As the Ducks 20th Anniversary Season, presented by Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, approaches, it is time to determine which members of the Flock have stood above the rest.

Two infielders down; two to go! We’ve covered the right side of the infield in our voting thus far, with the first base and second base positions being voted upon over the past two weeks, respectively. Let’s head over to the left side now and start off our fourth week of voting with the shortstop spot. The nominees for the position feature some of the most notable players to ever wear the Long Island Ducks uniform. All three account for 11 of Long Island’s 13 postseason appearances in franchise history during their time playing with the Ducks, with 2006 and 2009 being the only two seasons in which none of the three took the field with the Flock. Two of the three shortstop nominees also account for all three Ducks championships. It’s a talented trio to say the least, but it will be up to you to help decide which one gets the spot. Here are the nominees for the 20th Anniversary Team shortstop:


Kevin Baez
Kevin-Baez-20th-Voting

While Kevin Baez has become synonymous with the Ducks managerial role over the past eight years, he endeared himself to fans much earlier when he played for the orange and black. The former New York Mets infielder joined the Ducks in 2002 and proved to be a versatile option in the field. He would play second base, shortstop and third base during parts of four seasons in a Ducks uniform, though most of that time was spent at short. After playing 115 games during his first season with the Flock, Baez truly broke out in 2003. He compiled a .293 batting average and a .370 on-base percentage in 92 games that season and played well enough that the Cincinnati Reds purchased his contract during the year. Some of his signature moments with the Ducks came in 2004. He earned Atlantic League All-Star Game MVP honors that season (the final of three consecutive ALPB All-Star selections), connected for the sac fly during the famous August 9th game in Bridgeport that helped clinch the Ducks their first postseason berth ever, and was part of Long Island’s magical run to their first Atlantic League championship. After beginning the 2005 season as a player, he converted to a coaching role during the year. However, his legacy as a shortstop for the Ducks was cemented forever.


Edgardo Alfonzo
Edgardo-Alfonzo-20th-Voting

Another former New York Mets infielder is also among the nominees for the shortstop position. After enjoying a 12-year Major League career, eight of which was spent in Flushing, Edgardo Alfonzo joined the Ducks for a pair of seasons in 2007 and 2008. He played 105 games with the Ducks during the first of those two years and hit .266 with five homers, 56 RBIs, 53 runs and 23 doubles. The performance with the Flock as well as in the Venezuelan Winter League helped “Fonzie” garner an opportunity with Tigres de Quintana Roo in the Mexican League to start 2008. Following a solid season south of the border, Alfonzo returned to Long Island and continued to sizzle. In 59 games with the Ducks to end ’08, he batted .329 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs, 76 hits, 13 doubles and a .395 on-base percentage. Alfonzo, who played all four infield positions with the Flock but spent most of his time at short, was also a superb defender, combining to make just 16 errors over his two seasons with Long Island. Not to mention, the Ducks earned postseason berths in both of those years as well.


Dan Lyons
Dan-Lyons-20th-Voting

Although our third and final nominee does not have any Major League experience, he has played more games than any other player in franchise history. Dan Lyons has played 888 regular season games as a member of the Ducks, surpassing Ray Navarrete’s 863-game record this past season, a mark that had stood since he retired in 2013. The feat is even more admirable when you consider that Lyons first joined the Ducks in 2011 as a utility infielder on a team that would win more games than any other in the Atlantic League that year. However, “Shorty” greatly impressed during his 86 games that year, hitting .283 and posting a .971 fielding percentage. The Ducks made him their starting shortstop in 2012, and he proceeded to earn an Atlantic League All-Star Game selection. By season’s end, his spot in Ducks history was written in stone when he laid down a walk-off bunt single in the ninth inning of Game Five in the Atlantic League Championship Series to give the Ducks their first title since 2004. His performance in the series was worthy of earning Championship Series MVP honors. Since that point, Lyons has gone on to collect another Championship ring (2013), be named the first-ever winner of the Rawlings Gold Glove Defensive Player of the Year Award in the Atlantic League (2015) and garner two more All-Star Game nods (2015, 2016). Through eight seasons, he has totaled 40 homers, 353 RBIs, 423 runs and 755 hits. Not to mention, he has proven time and time again to be one of the top defenders in the league.


The choices have been revealed, and the time is now to vote! Simply click the button below to head to the balloting page and select your choice for the 20th Anniversary Team’s shortstop. Vote as often as you’d like over the next week, but only one candidate can be chosen when you do. The winner, along with the remainder of the 20th Anniversary Team, will be unveiled at the beginning of the 2019 season!

20th-Anniversary-Team-Voting-Button-Shortstop

Be sure to check back again next week, as we’ll reveal our three nominees for the third base position.

Wally Backman’s First Comments as Ducks Manager

Wally-Backman-Manager-Blog

The Long Island Ducks certainly made headlines this week throughout the Atlantic League, professional baseball and sports communities. Their first bit of news came on Tuesday when the Rockland Boulders announced the hiring of Kevin Baez as their manager for the 2019 season. The hire brings an end to an eight-year run as skipper of the Ducks for Baez, one that was highlighted by six Atlantic League Championship Series appearances, back-to-back league championships in 2012 and 2013 and the most wins by any manager in franchise history (600 total, including 571 in the regular season).

That announcement was followed up on Wednesday with the introduction of the sixth manager in Ducks history: Wally Backman. The 59-year-old will guide the Flock after spending one season managing in the Atlantic League with the New Britain Bees. Backman’s Bees were 33-30 in the first half of the season a year ago, finishing just two games behind Somerset in the Liberty Division. His club ended the season at 61-65 overall after he saw six players have their contracts purchased during the season, including five by Major League organizations, four of whom reported to Triple-A clubs.

Overall, Backman brings 20 seasons of managerial experience to the Ducks, including 11 with MLB organizations. He has amassed over 1,100 regular season victories and a .511 winning percentage as a manager, and he has won three league championships as well. Prior to his coaching career, the Oregon native enjoyed a 14-year career in the Major Leagues. Nine of those were spent with the New York Mets, where he helped the team win the 1986 World Series and drew the admiration of many local baseball fans in this area.

Members of the media had the chance to speak with Backman on Wednesday following the announcement of his hire. Here is a transcript from the conference call:


What made you want to join the Long Island Ducks?

“I think what made me want to join the franchise is the people that I have to work with. I think they’re good baseball people. They care about the same things I care about, and that’s winning and trying to put a good product on the field every day.”

How excited are you about coming here, and how quickly did all of this happen?

“It happened pretty quickly. I’m excited about it! I’m back in my old stomping grounds, and I always showed my interest in being in the New York area. With this opportunity becoming available, I thought it was a great opportunity to go back to where I really wanted to be, and that was in New York.”

What did you learn about the Atlantic League last year from being in New Britain?

“Well, I think one of the positives was just how good the baseball was. It was very good caliber baseball. I think I had 14 or 15 guys that had played in the big leagues. I liked the level of play and the way the league was run. I had done independent baseball before I ever went and did affiliated ball, and to come into the Atlantic League last year and see the way it was run and the people that were involved in the Atlantic League, I was excited about it.”

Why did you want to be back in New York?

“The knowledge of baseball from the people of New York. The playing days that I had in New York and the respect that I had for the people because the knowledge of the game was so much different in New York than it was in any of the other cities that I played in or even managed in. They keep you on your toes. They expect good things to happen, and they’re knowledgeable people about the game. That part of it excited me and just coming back to be around the New York media. I’ve always had a good rapport with those people. I know a lot of them are a lot older, like I am…but I’ve always enjoyed the media and had a good relationship with the media. I look forward to the upcoming season.”

Is getting to the big leagues still a goal for you, and how many obstacles have you faced to get there?

“I’ve faced some obstacles, there’s no question, but it’s definitely my goal still. I’ll say this, and I’ll say it to anybody else, that my focus this year is 100% on the Ducks. Yeah, I would like to get back to the big leagues at some point in time, but again, I just signed a contract with the Long Island Ducks, and they’re going to get 100% of Wally Backman.”

How much of a challenge do you think it will be to get to the big leagues?

“You know what, I’m not even really thinking about that at this point. I’m excited about where I’m going. Everything’s a challenge, but I’ve never been a quitter and I’m not going to quit at anything I do.  I would like to reiterate though that my focus is the Long Island Ducks and trying to win a championship there now.”

How much of a factor was it coming to a team that has the foundation and culture of success?

“Well, it’s huge. Knowing that you’re coming to an organization that really wants to win, is about winning and will do just about everything to try to help you accomplish that, I hope that I’m one of the ingredients that puts us over the top and helps us win a championship.”

What’s the biggest difference between managing at Triple-A and in the Atlantic League?

“Probably the biggest difference would be development. You’re trying to develop players in affiliated baseball. You’re still trying to develop, somewhat, in the Atlantic League, but it’s really more based on winning and trying to get guys back to where they can get an opportunity to go back to affiliated baseball or even to the big leagues.”

How nice will it be to reconnect with Bud Harrelson?

“Well, it would be huge. We did reconnect last year when I would come to town when I was with New Britain. Buddy and I have a long history together. I wish Buddy the best, and I hope he’s out there every day with us.”

How does it make you feel that your reception from New York fans always seems to be universally positive now more than three decades removed from that special 1986 championship team?

“Well it’s too long ago, that’s for sure. I’m getting too old now. Like I said, I enjoyed my time in New York. I always did, and I always wanted to come back to New York. To get this opportunity, I’m very grateful for it and hopefully good things come out of it.”

In the analytics-driven world that baseball has become, how much can analytics play a part in managing at this level?

“I’ve been using analytics since they’ve been available. I use the things that I believe help me, things like ground ball percentages, fly ball percentages and the way guys pitch in certain situations. All the information that I’m able to get, I try to go through all of that and use it to the best of my ability to help the team win.”

Do your instincts play a part in making managerial decisions as well? Do you balance the two?

“I think you’ve got to use both. You’ve got to use your eyes and use the things that are on paper too. These are human beings that are playing against you, and the analytics make a big part of that. It helps you tremendously on your defense, and it also helps your players. If you can give them certain parts of that to where they can analyze it themselves, it also helps make them a better player.”

How would you describe yourself in terms of managerial style?

“I’m an aggressive manager but under control. I use the information that’s given to me. I like to be aggressive on the bases. I like to see our guys go first to third. Those are things that I really demand of the players, just not to go through the motions. But I’m a player’s manager as well. I played for some of the best managers in the game, starting with Joe Torre as my first manager in New York to Jim Leyland, Davey Johnson and Lou Piniella. I could go on with other guys that I played for in the big leagues, but you try to take a piece from each one of them. The way that Jim Leyland communicated with his players, I thought, was one of the best that I had ever seen. Davey was a smart manager, and we had a great team in ’86. You try to take pieces from a little bit of all those guys and try to use it as an asset for yourself and go from there. I’m still Wally Backman, but I’ve taken a piece of a lot of those guys and tried to use it to the best of my ability in the way that I manage a game.”

Is it in some ways more fun at the minor league level now because it seems to be more of an old-style, fundamental type of baseball?

“I think it’s a big part in winning. Fundamentally, you have to be able to bunt and move runners over. Everybody loves the home runs, but you can win baseball games a lot of other ways than just the home runs. The strikeouts are a concern with me. A lot of people say, ‘an out is an out,’ but a strikeout, to me, can never be a productive out.”

How much time have you spent on Long Island previously, especially here in Suffolk County?

“Well, I lived in Dix Hills. I built a house in Dix Hills in the 80’s when I was playing in New York, so I’m pretty familiar with the Island.”

What have you learned in 20 years as a manager? How are you different from when you were managing with the White Sox organization to now?

“You know, I’m not a whole lot different. I respect the game, and I expect the players to respect the game. The thing that I probably have changed in those 20 years is the analytics. I’ve tried to use the analytics as far back as I can remember, whatever it might have been. Everything’s available to you today, and I think if you go through certain parts of the analytics, it can really help you win games.”

Is the rotation of players the most difficult part of independent baseball, with guys often going back to affiliated ball?

“Well, I think that’s a part of the Atlantic League. I think that’s why the Atlantic League is, without a doubt, the number one independent league there is in baseball. I don’t know exactly how well we’re affiliated with Major League Baseball. I know we follow all the guidelines and all the rules, but I think it’s important to show those players that we care about the players and are trying to get them back to affiliated ball. Whether it’s the minor leagues or overseas or back to the Major Leagues, we’re there for them. They can show what they can do on the field, and we get scouted very heavily.  There are opportunities for those players, and we’re just a piece of it. We’re giving those players an opportunity to show what they can do on the field and possibly give them another opportunity to get back to the big leagues or just get to the big leagues.”

What did your year managing in Brooklyn teach you about managing in New York that you can bring to Long Island?

“I don’t know that it really taught me anything. I know I played the game a long time, but I think the first and utmost important thing that you do with a player is you earn the player’s respect. Once you can earn the player’s respect and the trust of the player, then it’s like a good marriage. Things go better, and you can get more out of a player. For me, I think respecting the players is one of the most important things for a manager because once you earn a player’s respect, you’re going to get everything they’ve got.”

Former Ducks Backstop Back in the Big Leagues

J.R. House Reds Coach

J.R. House came to the Ducks in 2011 with five seasons of Major League experience. At 31 years of age, his ultimate goal was pretty simple: Get back to an MLB organization and have one final shot at returning to “The Show”. While he was unable to fulfill that task during his playing career, the mission has officially been achieved…as a coach.

The Cincinnati Reds announced on Monday that House has been hired as the team’s Third Base/Catching Coach for the 2019 season. He joins the likes of many other former Ducks who are now on MLB coaching staffs such as Kimera Bartee (Pittsburgh Pirates), George Lombard (Los Angeles Dodgers) and Jamie Pogue (St. Louis Cardinals). He also joins a staff highlighted by new manager David Bell, a 12-year Major League veteran as a player and former manager/coach for four seasons in the Reds organization (2009-12). Bell spent four seasons coaching in the St. Louis Cardinals organization (2014-17) as well before joining the San Francisco Giants following the 2017 season to become their Vice President of Player Development. When he was hired by the Reds on October 21st of this year, one of his first calls was to House.

“It all happened really fast,” House recalled via telephone this week, “David got the job as the new manager of the Reds, and then he called me to do an interview. We went through the process, and I think it worked out really well.”

The call was a bit of a surprise, as the two did not have much of a relationship beforehand. According to House, the two had shaken hands a couple of times previously but had not indulged in much dialogue aside from that. Though they’ve played against one another at the big league level, they had not been teammates or worked on the same coaching staff. However, House, who has served as a manager or coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization since retiring after the 2011 season, pointed out the tight-knit community that is the professional baseball world.

“I think baseball’s a small world,” he noted. “We kind of know how each other works, what we observe and each other’s reputation. With as much technology and communication as there is in the game today, it’s really hard to fool people anymore.”

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The former catcher joins the Reds after spending the 2018 season as the Field and Catching Coordinator for the Diamondbacks. According to House, the role allowed him to beef up his experience overseeing the prospects throughout the organization, gaining an analytical view of catching and filtrating that through the system, and making sure clubs were providing a good atmosphere for their prospects to flourish in. The experience was everything he could have hoped for after focusing predominantly on managing teams from rookie-level to Double-A prior to that.

“I’m just so thankful for the environment that I was able to work in,” House asserted. “Every day it was just so enjoyable to be able to go work within a tremendous culture and a place that allows you to bring your own individual strongpoints and personality to the job while at the same time keeping the camaraderie of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Since moving on from his playing days, House has devoted his life to helping those who have followed in his footsteps. As a coach, his objective has not been to win championships or receive more accolades. He’s accomplished both of those, claiming the 2014 Northwest League Championship as manager of the Hillsboro Hops and being named California League Manager of the Year in 2015 with the Visalia Rawhide. However, House hangs his hat on watching the players he has coached improve their game and advance higher up in the organization.

“When you’re a coach,” he stated, “your number one goal should be impacting players and helping them reach their peak performance, whatever that is. If you’re in it just to get to the big leagues or to try and make as much money as you can, you’re going to fizzle out. Those that have passion and love to coach and help human beings reach their max potential are the ones that usually flourish in this game and stay around for a long time.”

He continued to say, “I like to be able to impact players as much as I can and be around them because I just really enjoy those relationships. At the same time, you want to compete at the highest level there is. It’s enjoyable to try and be part of that and be part of a group that can come together and do some magical things. It makes work a lot of fun.”

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House developed his affinity for coaching and improving players from a moment during his brief Ducks career in 2011. One month into the season, he was batting just .258 and had an on-base percentage only slightly higher at .298. Frustrated at the dish and away from his family, which was living in Florida at the time (they have since moved to Scottsdale, Arizona), he was in need of some guidance.

“Our hitting coach was Jay Loviglio,” he recalled, “who was a good friend of mine and was actually my first manager in professional baseball when I was with the Pirates. He had a sit down, sort of “come-to-Jesus” moment with me as far as my swing and approach to the game. It really helped turn around that season; we called it the ‘metamorphosis.’”

The talk certainly seemed to work, as House would go on to hit .304 in June and .337 in July. He never looked back, en route to one of the best offensive seasons by a catcher in Ducks history. The season ended with House batting .305 while totaling 19 home runs, 81 RBIs, 73 runs and 128 hits. A lot of that, according to the Charleston, W.Va. native, can be attributed to his work with Loviglio.

“Those are the types of moments that we as coaches strive to have with players,” House said. “When you see the impact that you can make just by advice or a type of approach to a mechanical flaw, you just see how wonderful your job is. You really live for those moments and try to see the development process go in an upwards direction.”

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After focusing on work with prospects and younger players over the past seven years, House will now be on a Major League coaching staff for the first time. Though the Reds roster does feature many youngsters, it also boasts Major League veterans such as Joey Votto, Billy Hamilton and Homer Bailey. Knowing the veteran leadership that exists in Cincinnati, House will be relying partly on some of the techniques he observed from Ducks manager Kevin Baez during his time on Long Island.

“The biggest thing I think was his communication with the players and the trust that he had with us,” he recalled. “We had a lot of guys on the roster that had played in the big leagues that knew what they were doing and the expectations of the season. To see Kevin not try to micro-manage and actually be a little hands-off, allows us to play, have freedom, and enjoy it was really impressive on his part. Sometimes, we as coaches can get a little controlling and overbearing at times because you care so much and want players to learn right.”

While it remains to be seen just how much the Reds, who finished last in the National League’s Central Division in 2018 with a 67-95 record, can turn things around, the new coaching staff appears to be step one of the process. Fast success on the field will certainly be a challenging goal to achieve, but there are plenty of other obstacles that House is looking forward to overcoming first.

“Just learning everyone,” he commented regarding what his tallest task might be. “From the strengths and weaknesses of everyone’s skillset to just learning the names of the staff and players, the challenge is just going to be the learning curve and trying to get through that and rolling as fast as possible.”

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In a world where the emphasis is often placed on team success, House’s approach to coaching has always been focused on individual success. His desire to improve a player’s game and seeing that play out on the field continues to be the fuel that keeps him going. While one day’s goal is to improve one man’s game today, the next day’s task is doing the same for another player. With enough time and dedication from House and the rest of the Reds, the result could end up being a parade down Vine Street in Cincinnati.

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