Retiring a player's number only two years after he ends his career is rare. But for the Ducks, Ray Navarrete is a rare bird, a player who comes around once in a generation and one whose longevity is not often seen in the nomadic world of independent baseball.
The Ducks honored his eight-year career (2006-13) by retiring his No. 16 in a ceremony before their 7-5 victory over the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs on Sunday at Bethpage Ballpark. Appropriately, the Ducks had 16 hits in the win.
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Statistically speaking, Navarrete, 37, is the greatest player in the franchise's 16-year history. He holds the club record for home runs (137), RBIs (548), hits (963), runs (599), doubles (245) and games played (863).
In 2009, Navarrete hit .309 with 25 home runs and 96 RBIs and was named Atlantic League Player of the Year, the first Duck to be given the award. He is the only player in franchise history to hit three home runs in a game, doing so on June 8, 2008, against the Newark Bears.
"I almost feel like I've literally just played my last game," said Navarrete, who is the founder and creative director of Digmi, a Port Washington-based clothing line. "This is a really special honor for me personally and my family . . . The relationship that I have with the Ducks is a special one. I think they would probably share the same sentiments. They're my family. I grew up with them. The entire organization has became not only part of my baseball life but part of my personal life as well."
Navarrete's jersey number, which is displayed on the brick facing of the leftfield scoreboard, is the second one retired by the franchise. Justin Davies' No. 4 was retired in June. Davies retired in 2005 and, at the time, held four team records. Navarrete broke three of them: games played, hits and runs. Davies still holds the Ducks' record for stolen bases with 149.
Navarrete's storybook Ducks career was climaxed when he hit the go-ahead three-run home run in their title-clinching Game 5 victory over the Somerset Patriots in the 2013 Atlantic League Championship Series, the final game of his career.
"A lot of people on Long Island said that my career with the Ducks was movie-esque while it was happening," said Navarrete, a two-time champion and five time All-Star. "I didn't believe them while they were joking around saying that. Towards the end, I started to pick up on that a little bit. Then, the way 2013 ended, winning the championship and having my teammates carry me off the field exactly like the movie Rudy, it was a movie. It was the perfect ending and an incredible journey."
A journey that, in a level of the game that seemingly exists in uncertainty, will be difficult to replicate. But, if someone ever were to match Navarrete's Ducks career, one thing is for certain. They won't be wearing No. 16.
"My story with the Ducks is never-ending now," he said. "I'm going to be a part of that franchise forever. I think that's what I'm most grateful for. Even though my playing days are done, I'll forever have a home there. That's pretty cool."