Stepping Out

Long Island Ducks honor Bud Harrelson in season opener with Lew Ford as new manager

The Ducks took the field for the 2024 Atlantic League baseball season opener April 25 with heavy hearts


Bud Harrelson, the former Mets great who co-founded and co- owned the Ducks, died Jan. 11 at 79 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He co-founded the Ducks franchise with Frank Boulton in 1998, and served as the league’s first president. 

“Bud’s impact on Long Island will be felt through Ducks baseball for as long as we play,” Boulton says. “He was my partner in bringing professional baseball to Long Island following his outstanding playing career in MLB, and he made his mark on so many through his charitable giving, appearances and kindness. He was a one-of-a-kind human being, and he is missed greatly.”

The Ducks, who won their first game under new manager Lew Ford, are honoring Harrelson this season with a “3” patch on the front of their uniforms. Harrelson’s family was on hand for the opener, and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Ford became the seventh manager in Ducks history, succeeding Wally Backman. A member of the 1986 Mets World Series team, Backman joined the Ducks prior to the 2019 season, and finished his Ducks career with a record of 284-232 (.550). The team made the playoffs three times, and advanced to two Atlantic League Championship Series (2019, 2021), winning it all in 2019.

Ford has spent the past 13 seasons on Long Island, the past nine as a player/coach.

“I am honored and excited,” Ford says. “I look forward to working with our exceptional staff and players to bring home a championship to Long Island.”

Ford’s 13 years with the Ducks are more than any other player in franchise history, and his run as a player/coach is the longest tenure in franchise annals as well. He has the most hits in team history with 1,036, ranking him third all-time in the Atlantic League. Additionally, he sits second all-time among Ducks players in batting average (.318, mininum of 1,000 at-bats), games played (877), runs batted in (511), runs scored (549), doubles (227) and total bases (1,541).

The 47-year-old Central Islip resident played on the Ducks championship clubs in 2012, 2013 and 2019. He also helped lead the Flock to eight division titles and 11 postseason appearances as a player/coach. The outfielder was named the 2014 Atlantic League Player of the Year, setting league single-season records for hits (189) and games played (140) that season. In addition to his time with the Ducks, Ford spent parts of seven seasons at the Major League level, and in 519 big league games batted .268 with 35 home runs and 176 RBIs.

“Lew has been an outstanding representative of the Ducks organization over the past 15 years,” Boulton says. “He has earned this opportunity, and we are very excited to have him guiding our team on the field.”

The most accomplished player Ford will pencil into the lineup is Major League veteran outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who signed April 4. He appeared in 1,182 MLB games, and won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2018. He totaled 109 homers, 449 RBIs and 69 stolen bases over an 11-year career.

“Jackie is an exceptional talent with a wealth of experience in the game,” Ford says. “His resume speaks for itself. He’s excited to be here and we’re thrilled to have him.”

Bradley will patrol center field with speedy Nick Heath (42 steals) in left and Tyler Dearden in right. The infield features another former Major Leaguer, first baseman Frank Schwindel, who hit 22 in the bigs. Shortstop Ivan Castillo and third baseman Hector Gomez also have some MLB experience. Scott Kelly returns at second base, and Ford expects newcomer Rixon Wingrove to hit some dingers.

Behind the plate, Chance Sisco returns after belting 11 homers, including three in one game, with 33 RBIs in just 31 games.

“He’s a veteran catcher who calls a great game, and is a very productive hitter,” Ford says.

Sisco will work with a starting pitching staff anchored by Stephen Woods Jr., who went 7-2 for the Ducks last season. There is also former MLB southpaw Wei-Yin Chen. A onetime teammate of Ford’s in Baltimore, Daniel Corcino, who spent the past two years with Lexington. And Chris Ellis, who got a taste of the Majors with 25 relief appearances.

“We have talented players and a great clubhouse,” Ford says.