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Ducks looking to make it three straight titles

Ducks center fielder Lew Ford catches a long

Ducks center fielder Lew Ford catches a long drive against the Somerset Patriots during the first inning of Game 5 of the Atlantic League Championship Series on Sept. 29, 2013. Credit: Ray Stubblebine

The Ducks' goal this season is relatively simple: make history. No team in the Atlantic League has won three consecutive championships, and the Ducks have won the last two.

With 13 players returning from last year's squad, the Ducks believe they have a good chance to quack open the record books.

"We have a lot of guys coming back," Ryan Strieby said. "We have that nucleus, which is going to be an advantage for us, especially at the start of the season. A lot of times, at the beginning of the season, you're getting to know guys, getting used to each other, and don't have that chemistry. This team will hit the ground running because we already have that."

Strieby, a member of the last two championship teams, hit .357 with four RBIs in the playoffs last year.

After leaving last August to join the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization, Joash Brodin is back at Bethpage Ballpark. Before departing for the desert, he was batting .307 with 79 runs and 14 stolen bases.

"I'm excited," Brodin said of being back on Long Island. "We know what's expected to obtain our goal, which is to get another championship."

Although another championship is the obvious end game, the reality is that late September is a long summer away. These Ducks know that.

"You hear it a little bit," Brodin said of the three-peat talk. "We don't get too carried away with it. We've all played the game for a long time and know what has to be done. You take it game by game, at-bat by at-bat and pitch by pitch. If you start thinking about a championship already, you might lose focus on what our goal is."

Former Minnesota Twin and Baltimore Oriole Lew Ford returns for his fifth season with the Ducks. Ford has batted .330 in 201 games with the Ducks, the highest career average in team history. He has 24 home runs, 121 RBIs and 55 doubles.

In addition to anchoring the outfield, Ford will be the team's hitting coach, something he has never done at the professional level . . . officially, at least.

"When you've played this long, guys would come up to you all the time," he said. "I've been helping guys for many years. Now I just have the title of it. I'm just going to listen to the guys, try to keep them in the right approach, keep them thinking in the right direction and be there if they need any help with their swing."

Ford returned to the Ducks last August, hitting .377 in 17 regular-season games and .412 in seven playoff games. He then played four months of winter ball in Venezuela to stay in shape.

Joining Ford in the outfield will be newcomer Fehlandt Lentini. Lentini has played the last 10 seasons in five different independent leagues. He is the all-time independent baseball stolen-base leader with 338. He last played in the Atlantic League in 2012 as a member of the Lancaster Barnstormers.

"He's an all-time great independent player," manager Kevin Baez said. "He's a great addition to our outfield."

Any success the Ducks enjoy this year, of course, will start with the pitching staff. John Brownell, Shaun Garceau, Bobby Blevins, Jared Lansford, and Matt Way all return.

Former Oakland Athletic Fernando Hernandez joins the staff after pitching for the Somerset Patriots last season. The Ducks topped the Patriots in the Atlantic League Championship Series, and Hernandez had no problem joining the other side.

"When you can be part of a three-peat," Hernandez said, "I'm all in."

New York Sports