D’Arby Myers’ Twitter bio says he is “the fastest American alive.’’ While this most likely is tongue in cheek, you’d be hard-pressed to find a ton of Atlantic League catchers arguing that point.
The speedster etched himself into the Ducks’ history book last weekend when he stole first base, making him the first Duck to accomplish the feat under the new experimental rule that debuted last month. Players can steal first on any ball not caught in flight regardless of count — with, of course, the risk of being thrown out.
When it comes to throwing out Myers, though? Not likely.
The rule came to be as part of the agreement between Major League Baseball and the Atlantic League that allows MLB to test experimental rules in the independent league. The swiping first rule took effect on July 12, the first day of the second half.
Myers, who said throughout July that he was anxious to deploy this new weapon, took off with two outs in the eighth inning of the Ducks’ 4-0 loss to the Lancaster Barnstormers on Aug. 10.
“I was really itching to do it,” he said. “The night before, a ball got away from the catcher and I thought it was going to ricochet and I didn’t go. It sort of stuck with me all night. The next day, I just told myself, ‘If you get the opportunity, make it happen.’
“I stayed in a good running position in my stance and as soon as it got away, I saw it kick off his shin and I took off. It was an 0-2 pitch, facing a tough guy. threw me a nasty pitch and I was happy that I could get on base from that play. I put my head down and took off and fortunately I made it.”
Ducks manager Wally Backman is all for having his speedier players make the sudden move to first when the situation calls for it, but he doesn’t want the trend to bleed into the middle of his lineup.
“I don’t want to see the middle of the order doing it — 3, 4, 5 — because if there are runners on, those are our run-producers and we’re not going to produce runs by stealing first base. We’re going to produce runs with hits,” Backman said.
The Ducks, who clinched a playoff spot by winning the first-half title, will have a lot more chances to steal first. The team doesn’t have a scheduled day off for the rest of the regular season, which ends on Sept. 22. After that? One day off, followed by Game 1 of the Liberty Division Championship Series.
Beginning Sunday, the Ducks have 36 games in 36 days. Myers doesn’t mind.
“I live for this,” he said. “I’m a baseball player. I play baseball. So I’m happy to be playing baseball every day.”
Ex-Duck makes it to big leagues
One of the main goals of the Atlantic League is to showcase its players well enough that they find homes in affiliated ball. A handful of '‘Atlantic League lifers’' exist on most teams, but the league thrives on — and heavily publicizes — its reputation as career rehabilitators.
Lefty reliever Fernando Abad was called up by the Giants on Thursday. Abad, who pitched for the Ducks last season, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning in the Giants’ 7-0 win over the Diamondbacks. He is the 20th player in Ducks history to make it back to the majors after playing in Central Islip and the second player this year to accomplish the feat. Catcher Wilkin Castillo, who played for the Ducks in 2018, was called up by the Marlins earlier this year.
The most famous example of the Ducks' ‘'magic touch’' is Dodgers pitcher Rich Hill. Hill pitched briefly, and well, for the Ducks in 2015 before being called up by the Red Sox later that season.
Abad made 19 appearances for the Ducks last season, went 1-0 with a 0.48 ERA and two saves, and allowed one earned run in 18 2/3 innings. He previously pitched in the majors with the Astros, Red Sox, A’s, Twins and Nationals in an eight-year period.