Three-year MLB veteran joins Backman, Ford on coaching staff
(Central Islip, N.Y., March 4, 2021) – The Long Island Ducks today announced that Darin Downs has been hired as the team’s pitching coach for the 2021 season. He joins returning manager Wally Backman and hitting coach Lew Ford on the Ducks coaching staff.
“Darin was a consummate professional and outstanding teammate during his three-year pitching career with us,” said Ducks President/GM Michael Pfaff. “Frank Boulton, Bud Harrelson and our entire ownership group have always believed in hiring and growing from within. Giving Darin his first opportunity as a coach is in keeping with that tradition.”
Downs joins the coaching ranks following a 17-year career as a professional player. He was a key contributor to the Ducks Atlantic League championship run in 2019. The southpaw made 21 starts during the regular season, going 3-3 with a 2.63 ERA and 140 strikeouts, a total that was tied for second-most in the league. He also started two games during the playoffs, including Game One of the Liberty Division Championship Series at High Point in which he allowed just two runs and struck out seven over six and one-third innings. The Florida resident previously spent time with the Ducks in 2015 and 2016. In his three years with Long Island, Downs compiled a 15-13 record with a 3.28 ERA, 303 strikeouts, 87 walks and 282.1 innings pitched over 50 starts.
The 36-year-old is a veteran of three seasons at the Major League level. He pitched two years with the Detroit Tigers (2012-13) and one with the Houston Astros (2014), combining to make 92 relief appearances. He went 4-4 with a 4.76 ERA and 84 strikeouts to 39 walks over 90.2 innings of work. Among his many accolades, he was named the MiLB.com Class-A Advanced Starting Pitcher of the Year in 2010 and a Florida State League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star in 2009. Downs was originally selected by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2003 amateur draft.
“I am excited to get my coaching career underway on Long Island, a place that has afforded me many opportunities to continue my career and, most recently, to win a championship,” said Downs. “I want to thank Michael Pfaff and Wally Backman for bringing me on to help defend our title.”
Backman returns as Ducks manager for a second season after being named the Atlantic League’s Manager of the Year in 2019. He led Long Island to an 86-54 record during the regular season, breaking the franchise record for most wins in a single season that was previously achieved by Bud Harrelson (82, 2000). He also became just the second manager in Ducks history to win both the first and second half of the season, joining Kevin Baez, who accomplished the feat in 2011. During the postseason, the 61-year-old led the Ducks to a 6-2 record en route to the franchise’s fourth Atlantic League championship. Backman saw a team-record 15 players have their contracts purchased in 2019, including nine by Major League organizations.
The Oregon native has over 20 seasons of managerial experience across professional baseball, having amassed a 1,213-1,131 overall record (.517 winning percentage). In that time, he has led his teams to seven division championships and four league championships. Prior to his coaching career, Backman enjoyed a 14-year Major League playing career. Nine of those seasons (1980-88) were played with the New York Mets, where he helped lead the team to a World Series Championship in 1986. He also spent time in “The Show” with the Minnesota Twins (1989), Pittsburgh Pirates (1990), Philadelphia Phillies (1991-92) and Seattle Mariners (1993). The infielder compiled a .275 lifetime batting average with 240 RBIs, 482 runs scored, 893 hits, 138 doubles and 117 stolen bases in 1,102 MLB games.
Ford returns for his 11th season with the Ducks organization, more than any other player in franchise history, and seventh in a player/coach role. The outfielder/designated hitter is the franchise’s all-time leading hitter (minimum 500 at bats) with a .320 batting average. His 921 hits are also just 42 shy of tying Ray Navarrete for the all-time franchise record (963). He has played 752 regular season games with the Flock, totaling 75 home runs, 448 RBIs, 483 runs scored, 203 doubles and 263 walks. In addition, the Central Islip resident has appeared in 50 playoff games with Long Island, registering a .278 batting average, four homers, 25 RBIs, 25 runs and 58 hits in 209 at-bats.
The 44-year-old has been selected to play in three Atlantic League All-Star Games while with the Ducks (2014, 2015, 2018). In 2014, he became the second player in franchise history to be named Atlantic League Player of the Year (Ray Navarrete, 2009) after breaking the league’s single-season records for hits (189) and games played (140). Ford has appeared in six Atlantic League Championship Series with the Ducks, including the championship-winning clubs of 2013 and 2019, and has been selected to the Atlantic League's Post-Season All-Star Team twice (2014, 2018). After spending five seasons in the Major Leagues with the Minnesota Twins (2003-07), the Texas native returned to the Major Leagues in 2012 as a member of the Baltimore Orioles after beginning the season with the Ducks.
The Long Island Ducks are members of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, a Professional Partner League of Major League Baseball, and play their home games at Fairfield Properties Ballpark. For further information, visit LIDucks.com or call (631) 940-DUCK (3825).
About the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB)
The Atlantic League is the first Professional Partner League of Major League Baseball, a player gateway to the major leagues, and a leader in baseball innovation. ALPB has sent over 950 players to MLB organizations while drawing 42 million fans to its family friendly ballparks over its 24-year history. Please visit AtlanticLeague.com.