Lew Ford may have been in Mexico, but his mind was never really that far from Bethpage Ballpark. Yes, he had left the Ducks on July 11 to play for the Tijuana Toros of the Mexican League. But he still kept tabs on his former mates from his temporary home 15 minutes south of the Mexico/California border.
"I was checking on them every day and kept in contact with GM Mike Pfaff to see how everything was going," Ford, 39, said. "I was hoping we'd have a chance to make the playoffs."
And that's because Ford, who is also the Ducks' bench coach, had every intention of returning to Long Island after the Mexican League season ended. That end came on Sept. 6 when the Toros were eliminated from the playoffs and, five days later, Ford was back in centerfield in Central Islip, a place he has patrolled so well for six of the last seven seasons.
"It felt like I was back home," Ford, the defending Atlantic League Player of the Year, said. "I was welcomed by the fans like I was a family member they hadn't seen in a long time. They were really good to me. It was nice to have one more series at home before the playoffs started."
The Ducks clinched a playoff berth Tuesday night. They will face the Somerset Patriots in the best-of-five Liberty Division Championship series, scheduled to begin Wednesday night at Bethpage Ballpark. The Ducks will host the first two games, Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday night, before finishing the series in Somerset.
Ford, who lives in Central Islip, said he had turned down offers from other Mexican League teams in each of the last two seasons but, because of his familiarity with some of the Toros' players, and Tijuana's proximity to the United States -- just 18 miles south of San Diego -- he decided that the time was right to make the move.
"It happened pretty much in one day," Ford recalled. "The team had contacted me. There were a lot of things that went into the decision, [such as] my family and the fact that I like it here on Long Island. I feel like I'm a big part of the team on the field and off. It was tough to leave that."
When he left for Tijuana, Ford was leading the Atlantic League in batting (. 361), hits (96), and RBIs (58). In 30 games (113 at-bats) with the Toros, Ford hit .372 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.
"There was an adjustment," Ford said of being thrust into a new league in the middle of the season. "It was like starting from scratch. You have to get your feet wet, get used to your new team, the new place you're staying, and the travel. Once you get your feet wet, you're back to just concentrating on the game. I made a pretty quick adjustment down there and was able to pick up where I left off."
Ford hasn't missed a beat since returning to Long Island, either. In his first five games back with the Ducks, he hit .333 with six hits, two runs, and two RBIs in 18 at-bats.
The Ducks, who close out their regular season Sunday afternoon in Lancaster, boasted three of the four highest batting averages in the Atlantic League, entering play Friday -- Sean Burroughs, Delta Cleary Jr, and Dan Lyons. The addition of Ford only strengthens the franchise's push for a fourth Atlantic League title.
"We've done it before," Ford said. "We have guys on this team that have won before. I have a lot of confidence."