In II seasons, Lew Ford has become the Ducks all-time leader...

In II seasons, Lew Ford has become the Ducks all-time leader in hits with 964. Credit: George A. Faella

The course of Ducks history was forever changed because Ken Ray made a phone call.

Ray, a former Royals and Braves pitcher who started six games for the Ducks in 2009, rang up Lew Ford prior to that season. The two had just been released out of Rockies spring training and Ray told Ford he should look into coming to Long Island to play for a team named the Ducks.

"I didn't know anything about the independent leagues at that time," said Ford, 45, who played for the Twins and Orioles. "But I heard really good things about Long Island, and I wanted to keep playing, so that's how I ended up here."

Eleven seasons later, Ray is just another small name on the Ducks all-time roster and Ford is the team’s all-time hits leader. He broke former teammate Ray Navarrete’s franchise record of 963 Saturday night at Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip. He had tied the record Tuesday in West Virginia.

All that after a simple phone call that led to a familiar thought among first time Ducks.

"When I came here, I did not think I was going to be here very long," Ford said. "I thought a team would sign me, just like a lot of guys when they come here. I never thought I'd be here for 11 years. I’m thinking a couple of weeks or a month."

Although Ford's tenure has been interrupted a few times — the Orioles and the Mexican League pulling him away from Central Islip — he’s always come back, often to roaring success.

Ford is a three-time Atlantic League All-Star and won the Atlantic League Player of the Year award in 2014. He’s also the Ducks hitting coach.

"He’s been about everything you'd want a guy to be," Ducks manager Wally Backman said. "In the time that he's been a hitting coach, I think you've seen a lot of success within the organization. I've seen the guy from player to coach and I think Lew does an outstanding job as a coach as well."

Ford said he wasn’t aware he was even close to the franchise hits record until last month.

"I was surprised, but I've been here a long time so it's not too surprising because I've had the at-bats to do that," Ford said. "It feels good. It was a goal. I like goals, so once I found out about it, I tried to accomplish that goal. It gives you something else to work for."

Ford is hitting .303 with three home runs and 29 RBIs. He maintains that this will be his last season.

"I've kind of had that feeling all year and that's kind of the way I'm approaching it," he said. "I like approaching it that way. It's my final season. I want to win a championship again and do the best I can here. I like that motivation, as ‘this is my final year,’ "

Playoff rotation takes shape

Backman has tabbed lefty Darin Downs to start Game 1 of the Ducks first-round series that begins Oct. 11, and righty Scott Harkin will start Game 2.

Downs, a former Tigers and Astros reliever and the Ducks pitching coach, is 6-5 with a 4.35 ERA and 88 strikeouts in 18 starts. Downs started the year strictly as a coach, but entered the rotation in June.

"He kept himself in shape," Backman said. "He knew that, at some point, we may need him. We weren't expecting to need him the whole time. But as he fell into the rotation, he just kept getting better and better. He's definitely our number one guy right now."

Harkin was 5-0 with a 2.84 ERA and 28 strikeouts in eight starts.

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