Like magnets, the Syracuse Chiefs outfield tandem of Wayne Lydon and Jeff Duncan just seem to stick together. They complement each other as well.
Lydon is fast, runs like a cheetah and leaps like a gazelle. At the plate no one lays down a bunt any better than Lydon. In a game at Pawtucket last August, Lydon set a Syracuse franchise record by stealing four bases in the same game.
Duncan has good, but not great speed. Nonetheless, he is an accomplished base runner and base stealer. He's a solid defensive fielder who makes few mistakes. He has a solid arm. As a leadoff hitter, Duncan is very advanced. He has good plate discipline, is a tough hitter with 2 strikes, and can bunt. He's learned to drive the baseball with gap power.
"Right now being a leadoff hitter is not working for me because I'm having troubles at the plate," said Duncan, who missed a lot of playing time due to a concussion he suffered after running into the outfield wall earlier this year. "As my at-bats increase I'll be better able to do the things a leadoff hitter should which is to get on base. I do love the lead-off spot."
The pair has spent the majority of their Minor League careers in the same outfield in the New York Mets organizations and now has once again been reunited in Syracuse.
"Lydon is a great guy," Duncan said. "It's kind of ironic that were here together again. We've had some good years together and so far this season it's been fun."
Lydon, son of a Navy dad, was a military brat born in Fairfax Va., but spent his early years in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia, until he settled down in Jessup, Pa., where he still makes his off-season home.
After high school Lydon had the chance to attend college or jump into the pros. He had offers from Pitt, Virginia Tech, Temple and several other Division I schools to play football, but opted for a career with the Mets.
"I had many offers to go to college to play football," Lydon said. "I chose baseball because I had played it since I was little and had more of a love for the game and the Mets were one my favorite teams when I was growing up. I was more confident making it to the Major Leagues. The money was okay too, who as a young kid doesn't need money?"
Lydon was a raw talent when he first joined the Mets and even learned to switch hit. "I was thrown into the fire," said Lydon, who plays golf just for the relaxation. "The competition was so much better. I had to learn how to compete with it."
Lydon and Duncan played in the same outfield for the first time with single-A Capital City in 2002 and then on and off again during the 2004 and 2005 seasons with the Binghamton Mets. Duncan had a few call-ups to New York during that time, but prior to the 2006 season both players felt it was time for a change of scenery.
Duncan signed with the Dodgers and played for triple-A Las Vegas while Lydon came over to Toronto and spent the year in Syracuse.
In 2007, Duncan had an option to re-sign with the Dodgers, but called Lydon and asked about the Toronto organization. With the resounding endorsement of Lydon and a few others Duncan jumped back to the east coast and signed with the Blue Jays. "Lydon had nothing but great things to say about the Blue Jays," said Duncan, whose agent also represents A.J. Burnett. "The Blue Jays are really fair and honest."
Lydon, hoping for a quicker path to the Majors, jumped ship and signed with the Washington Nationals. However, the Nationals cut Lydon loose after just three games in spring training and he found that his words to Duncan about the Blue Jays organization would ring true as Toronto re-signed him and sent him to New Hampshire.
"The Blue Jays stand up to their word," Lydon said. "They told me they wanted me back and that I'd start in double-A, but that Syracuse would not be far off because they anticipated the Lind call-up. I've been blessed because I was in a bad situation after spring training."
Adam Lind was called up to Toronto in April and once again Lydon and Duncan were together, this time with the Chiefs.
Duncan also loved football while growing up in Chicago, but was better at baseball. He too had the tough decision of going to college or going pro.
"I had a very, very lucrative offer from the (Chicago) Cubs," Duncan said about being drafted by his hometown team out of high school. "It was a real tough choice and the money they offered made it a hard decision. I chose to go the college route and attended Arizona State. I thought it was the best way to get some education behind me."
Duncan went back into the draft and was selected by the Mets putting the marriage with Lydon in place.
(Speaking of marriage cupid has hit Lydon with his arrow. "This past off-season I met someone," Lydon said. "I don't know what the future holds but I think she's the right one.")
Now that Duncan and fellow outfielder Mike Vento are healthy, Chiefs manager Doug Davis must make daily decisions about who to play. "I want to play at the highest level I can," Lydon said. "My playing time is out of my hands but when I do play I want to be the best I can be."
"We both play all three positions," Duncan said of Davis' decision-making on playing time. "I'm comfortable playing left or right as well. We have a nice little rotation going on now that we're all healthy. We're all getting fair playing time."
Although he is back playing, Duncan is still feeling the effects of his one-on-one battle with the outfield manual scoreboard that left him knocked out and led to a short hospital stay.
"I hit that wall full speed," Duncan said reliving the moment. "The wall definitely got the best of me. I really didn't know what had happened until I got back from the hospital and Motor (Chad Mottola), who was in right field, told me. My two feet went through the holes where they put the scores and that allowed my body to keep going forward where I lost control and my head hit it. It was pretty scary."
So much so that another collision with a wall at any level could end Duncan's baseball career.
But, never fear, Duncan who loves to hunt and fish along with watching football has thought about life after his playing days and a stab at coaching would fit into his plans very nicely.
Duncan and former Chief Mark Dalesandro run youth baseball clinics in the Chicago area in the off-season.
Quick with a joke to interject some levity when the situation calls for it, Duncan relies on a positive attitude every day.
"I try and bring some energy to the clubhouse," Duncan said. "I try and have fun. Baseball can be a very humbling game."
Ed Gonser is a contributing writer for SyracuseChiefs.com. His "On Board" column profiles a Chiefs player or coach every week throughout the season. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.