Being the dedicated Oakland A’s fan I am, I tuned in to their game against Baltimore Sunday and received some pregame news that rewarded what faith I have left in human nature.
Batting in the fifth slot and playing left field for the Orioles was Lew Ford.
Further substantiating the lesson taught by the venerable New Britain historian and author Bart Fisher, every story has a New Britain angle somewhere, and Ford’s is readily accessible. Ford played for the New Britain Rock Cats in 2001 and 2002, but more on that later.
Why is Lew Ford’s presence in the Baltimore lineup such a stunner? It is classified that way for a few reasons.
Since he played in New Britain a decade ago, Ford is not a Johnny-come-lately to the professional scene. He is 35-years-old, and his meandering trail of stops that shape his baseball legacy are worthy of note.
Ford, a standout player during his high school and college days in Texas, was the Boston Red Sox’ 12th-round pick in the 1999 amateur draft. Here are the towns he’s called home since:
1999 – Lowell, Mass.
2000 – Augusta, Ga.
2001 – Fort Myers, Fla.; NEW BRITAIN
2002 – NEW BRITAIN; Edmonton, Alberta
2003-07 – Rochester, N.Y.; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.
2008 – Hanshin, Japan
2009 – Central Islip, Long Island, N.Y.; Louisville, Ky.
2010 – Oaxaca, Mexico
2011 – Central Islip
2012 – Norfolk, Va.
In his early days with Boston, he was labeled by The Sporting News as the organization’s top five-tool player. That is, his collective ability to hit for a high average, hit for power, run the bases, catch the ball and throw the ball was on an extremely high level.
He was traded to the Minnesota Twins (Rock Cats’ parent club) on Sept. 10, 2000 for former Rock Cats right-handed pitcher Hector Carrasco and began the year at the advanced Class A level before his promotion to New Britain June 21.
His batting average for the 2001 Eastern League co-champions (events of 9/11 canceled championship series with the Reading Phillies) was non-descript at best (.218). But I was fortunate enough to be in Binghamton, N.Y., on my 49th birthday (August 19) to see Ford smash four homers in a game against the B-Mets.
While in New Britain, Ford became a fan favorite. His lovely wife, Corri, spent many hours at New Britain Stadium trying to amuse the couple’s two youngsters, Jake and Jordan, now 13 and 12 respectively. The Fords were friendly with shortstop Tony Stevens, who went on to a different big league theater – a military tour of duty in Iraq where he survived nine bomb attempts.
In 2002, Ford started in New Britain and readily proved he was ready for bigger and better things. He was the Minnesota Twins Minor League Player of the Month in May, the Eastern League Player of the Week June 24-30 and chosen to play in the Double-A All-Star Game in Norwich on July 10.
His promotion to Triple-A Edmonton came five days later. He finished at.311 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI in 93 games for New Britain.
He broke into the big leagues with the Twins in 2004 and batted.272 with 32 homers, 172 RBI and 47 stolen bases in 57 tries over 494 games. He went 0-for-3 in his 495th on Sunday, but notched an assist when he threw out Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes trying to stretch a single into a double.
In between those glorious moments, Ford played in the Japanese major league, in Mexico and finally reverted to independent baseball with the Long Island Ducks in the Atlantic League, which is where the Bridgeport Bluefish play.
Ford told Everett Cook of the Baltimore Sun Sunday about what’s at the core of his perseverance.
“I love everything about baseball and [playing independent ball] got me back to why I’m playing,” Ford said. “I’m just going to enjoy this.”
Among Ford’s New Britain teammates who logged, or are still logging, time in the big leagues: Michael Cuddyer (Colorado), Justin Morneau (Twins), David Ortiz (Boston), Michael Restovich, Grant Balfour (Oakland), Kyle Lohse (St. Louis), Joe Dillon, Willie Eyre, Matt Kinney, Micheal Nakamura, Luis Rodriguez, Juan Rincon, Brad Thomas and Saul Rivera.
One of his teammates still makes local news – Rock Cats manager Jeff Smith.
The 2001 Rock Cats went 87-55, cruising to first place in the Northern Division.