As he stood on the field at Bethpage Ballpark on Friday night and the Ducks made his No. 4 the first number retired by the 16-year-old franchise, Justin Davies couldn't help but smile.
How far things had come since the first time he was introduced to Ducks fans, shortly after spring training in 2000.
Davies, a West Babylon native who was released by the Toronto Blue Jays in the final week of spring training that year, was cut by the Ducks on the last day of their camp in Florida.
The reason? The Ducks were in contract negotiations with former Yankee Ruben Sierra and simply had no room.
"You can imagine how devastated I was," said Davies, 38, who was honored in a ceremony before the Ducks' series-opening 6-2 victory over the Bridgeport Bluefish. "I had only bought a one-way plane ticket to Florida, thinking I would get picked up with a team and fly back with them. I could tell [manager] Buddy Harrelson kind of felt bad. He said to me, 'I know you're a good player and I want you to continue to work out with us until [Sierra] gets here or you sign with another league.' "
The outfielder hitched a ride with a Ducks teammate and ventured to Long Island, not sure if he'd get to play a single game in a Ducks uniform. With Sierra yet to arrive, Davies attended a preseason banquet for fans and was introduced with the rest of the team, with one major caveat.
"I got introduced as the player who was going to replace Sierra if he didn't show up," Davies said. "It was weird . . . I knew there was no ill will toward it. All the season-ticket holders were there and it was kind of like, 'Sorry, guys, I'm what you get if you don't get Ruben here.' "
But after Sierra was signed by the Texas Rangers, Davies stayed a Duck -- and quickly morphed into a fan favorite.
After a six-year career in which he hit .273 with 175 RBIs, his number never will be worn again. A small No. 4 now rests on the left side of the Ducks' giant scoreboard in leftfield.
"It's kind of surreal," said Davies, who played in the Atlantic League All-Star Game in 2003 and 2005. "I never in a million years thought this would happen. It's humbling."
After the ceremony, Davies remained in awe of the moment. "I tried to prepare myself for the day,'' he said. "I was a little excited and very nervous. When I walked in, I got the first-class treatment, like they've always treated me. Walking down the tunnel brought back memories . . . It definitely brought back chills."
When he retired in 2005, Davies held four team records: games played (637), hits (615), runs (426) and stolen bases (149). He still holds the mark for steals. Another Ducks great, Ray Navarrete, who will have his number retired in August, broke the other three.
Davies, now a police officer in North Carolina, also played a big role in the Ducks' first Atlantic League championship in 2004, culminating with a three-game sweep of the Camden Riversharks. Davies delivered walk-off hits in the first two victories, hit .385 and was named MVP.