By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor
Mike Ford is seeing the value of patience as a minor league baseball player.
A slow start to his first full season of advanced Class A baseball with the Tampa Yankees could have frustrated the Montgomery resident and Hun School and Princeton University graduate. But he kept his confidence until the hits began to fall.
“I tried just to stay focused on my process,” Ford said. “Early in the year I hit a ton of balls at people. I kept working, kept working, kept working, and I kept hitting balls to people and hitting balls at people. Then a month ago, stuff started to fall. As a hitter, that gives me confidence.”
With another hit in a 1-0 loss to Brevard on Wednesday, Ford has now hit safely in 12 of his last 13 contests. His overall batting average is .262, but he is hitting .320 and slugging at a .515 clip in his last 30 games.
“My hitting coach here has been great, and the support from everyone to get through the bad luck has been great,” Ford said. “My dad’s famous line to me is ‘baseball is a game of averages. You will be where you’re supposed to be.’ It’s a hard thing to realize when you get 400-500 at bats a year. You have to work through each at bat, but you have to look at the big picture.”
Ford has always been a big hitter and he has the same confidence that his hits will come now after moving up a level this year.
“I haven’t changed anything from Day One,” Ford said. “I’ve worked on sitting on the outside pitch and if an inside pitch comes, turning on it. The last month is validation that I’m doing well.
“I knew I could hit at this level. I’m confident with my bat. I think I could hit moving forward. It’s about opportunity. Hopefully with this last month, I can get some more. And hopefully I finish out this last month like last month and this season ends up being a pretty good year.”
Ford had 12 games with Tampa at the end of last season and hit .354 in almost 50 at bats after playing well for Charleston, S.C., the Yankees’ lower Class A affiliate. Ford found the experience useful.
“I got called up for the end of the year,” Ford said. “It allowed me to get comfortable with the league for this year.”
Ford is in his second year of professional baseball after signing with the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent following his junior year at Princeton. He has seen progress from his first full year to now with the move to Tampa.
“Coming into this year, that’s where I thought I would be,” Ford said. “I rented an apartment for the whole season. I thought I might be here the whole year. The three affiliates haven’t been too bad to live in — Staten Island, Charleston and Tampa. Coming out with the guys that came out with me, I figured I’d be with Tampa.”
The teams in the Florida State League are closely situated and travel isn’t nearly as strenuous as it was while at Charleston. Ford’s longest bus ride is three hours and most nights, he can sleep in his own bed. It’s allowed him to just focus on playing.
“Each level you go through there are differences,” Ford said. “In this league, guys have more command of their fastball, more command of their offspeed. There are a lot of guys that throw hard. There are a lot more guys that can pitch. As a hitter, that’s an adjustment but I’ve felt comfortable all year. I’m never concerned about who’s pitching, I’m concerned about how I’m doing in the box.”
While posting good statistics is important, Ford realized early that his lack of average was not due to a hitting flaw but more where his hits were landing.
“Some people that haven’t played the game think something is wrong with your hitting,” Ford said. “I was just getting unlucky. I was telling myself, I know I’m hitting well, I’m just not getting hits.
“One great thing about technology is they have very advanced statistics in everything,” he added. “While going through that, my exit velocity was up from last year, my balls in play was up. Every category was above where it was before. It gave me confidence I could get through this. I had a little tweak in my swing, a minor hand placement, but other than that I felt good all year.”
Ford prepared for the season at home. He had returned to work out in the offseason and to finish his history degree at Princeton.
“When I signed, that was an unwritten thing,” Ford said. “I was invited to (instructional league) both years, but they knew I wanted to finish.
“My first semester, my whole class was there still. I felt like a normal college senior. This year was different.”
It took Ford the last two fall semesters to complete his degree.
“Princeton works with the baseball players really well,” Ford said. “The guys that did it before me set the trend. We’ll do it in the fall semester, come back after the spring and then come back in the fall. I came up with my topic the first semester. I spent the bulk of this past fall just working on it. That was the only tricky part. I had a great advisor. He really helped me through it. It turned out to be a pretty fun semester.”
In the midst of finishing his studies, Ford kept in shape in preparation for another year of professional baseball.
“I worked out, sometimes with the Princeton practice,” Ford recalled. “I usually take a month or a month and a half off. This year, I may give myself a little more time off in a hitting aspect. You can only give so much time in the cage in the Northeast. I work out with the trainer from Lawrenceville and his assistant just to push me. I like to be pushed.
“I work out at Princeton. I split my time up between agility, speed and power. It worked out. I came into the season strong and in shape. I maintained it throughout the year.”
Ford is doing the same in the season in working to maintain his swing and the approach that he will need to continue to progress.
“It sounds pretty generic, there’s not much a single player can control other than his performance,” Ford said. “A lot of people focus on the decisions you’ll never be in power to make. What I try to focus on is my performance, getting work in, and developing my own routine at the field. Little things like that, you know your body and what can separate you from other people.”
Ford is doing his best to impress those that see him at every level. The Yankees tell their prospects that they want them to move up to the parent club eventually. It’s up to the players to prove themselves consistent contributors at every class they play.
“It’s just playing hard every day,” Ford said. “It’s the little things that can separate you. If someone comes and sees you do one thing, and comes back and sees you do it again, they like that.”
Those that are watching Ford now have seen him handle a heavy dose of bad luck and battle back to hit like he usually does. Now that he is back on track, he is looking to end on a high note as he heads into the offseason.
“It’s definitely a big boost to your confidence,” Ford said of his recent stretch. “You want to play well the whole year. What makes your offseason shorter is when you play well at the end and when you finish strong. If you don’t finish strong, you might be more motivated, but when I finish strong, I want to get back out there and get better. It’s a validation. A lot of it is validating it to yourself. I knew I was doing everything well with my swing.”
By Justin Feil, Assistant Sports Editor