The only telltale sign that the Ducks were preparing for a playoff series was the fall chill in the air at Bethpage Ballpark Tuesday morning as the team took the field for its final workout before the postseason.
Besides that, things were incredibly loose.
Pitchers were joking during fielding practice as position players tossed a football in rightfield. The Ducks have been here before, and they're glad to finally be back.
"Everyone's spirits have been lifted since we clinched the second-half division, and everyone is ready to go," said shortstop Dan Lyons, the MVP of last year's Atlantic League Championship Series. "Everyone feels like they're re-energized here, and we expect big things."
The Ducks lost eight of their last 11 regular-season games and finished the second half 33-37. But that was still good enough to win the second-half Liberty Division title and earn the right to defend their Atlantic League championship.
The team clinched the second-half division title Saturday with a 4-0 win at Somerset in the penultimate game of the regular season and begin the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship Series Wednesday night at home against a familiar postseason foe, Southern Maryland.
This will mark the third consecutive season the Ducks and Blue Crabs have met in the LDCS and the fourth time in five seasons. The Ducks won the series in five games last year, and in four games in 2011. Southern Maryland won it in five games in 2009.
The Ducks went 11-9 against the Blue Crabs during the regular season.
"It's exciting to see them again and just get in," Ducks manager Kevin Baez said. "There's no doubt we've struggled the last couple of weeks, but now we're in and anything can happen."
In Game 1, the Ducks will hand the ball to John Brownell, who last week was voted the team's most valuable player by the fans. He'll face Gaby Hernandez, who went 7-12 with a 4.29 ERA., including a 1-1 record with a 7.04 ERA in three appearancesvs. the Ducks
The Ducks will host Game 2 tomorrowThursday night and then travel to Southern Maryland for Game 3 Friday night. Games 4 and 5, if necessary, will also be played at Southern Maryland on Saturday and Sunday.
Brownell was honored to be starting Game 1.
"You always want to be the guy that gets the ball first, but anyone on this staff deserves it," Brownell said. "In the playoffs, you feel more focused, there's a lot more adrenaline and intensity from pitch to pitch. But that's what you play for. It's the most fun time of the year."