You could have tried to wipe the big smile off Lew Ford’s face this morning, but you would not have been able to do it.
The 35-year-old Ford has not played in the majors since 2007 with the Twins. Since then, he’s played in Mexico, Japan and in the Atlantic League. But after being called up by the Orioles, he is back in the American League and will bat fifth in left field today for the Birds.
No major league team would give him a chance in spring training, and he began the 2012 season with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League.
“No, not for years. Not for years (did anyone give me a chance),” Ford said. “I really started this year thinking I had some friends on the team there with Long Island, and was thinking I want to win the championship there. I had a couple of injuries last year and I didn’t want to go out like that. If I got picked up, great, but I thought I would just play in the Atlantic League and hopefully win a championship there.
“This is kind of more than I could have dreamed of,” Ford said this morning in the Orioles’ clubhouse.
“The chance that this would happen was just so small. I’m a very realistic person and to make it back here, I’m just so happy. So many friends that probably had more faith in me than I did. I appreciate all the people that kept that spirit in me to make it back.”
The Orioles signed Ford on May 17. Over 62 games at Norfolk, he hit .331 with 14 doubles, 11 homers, 40 RBIs, a .550 slugging percentage and a .939 OPS.
“It’s a great feeling. I’ve come a long way this year from where I thought I was going to be to here,” he said. “It’s really been an amazing experience this year and I’m just going to enjoy it as much as I can.”
What has been the key to his strong season with Norfolk?
“Big thing is I worked hard in the offseason, but having some people stick out their neck for me with Baltimore and they gave me a chance,” Ford said. “They gave me a chance in Triple-A and now up here. I really appreciate that because it doesn’t happen all the time. It’s really tough to get back after being out so long.”
Ford thanked Norfolk manager Ron Johnson, Orioles minor league hitting coordinater Mike Boulanger, executive vice president Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter for bringing him to the organization and now calling him up.
I’ve seen very few players happier or more appreciative to be in the major leagues than Ford was today.
About the only time he was struggling for words was when he was asked about his amazing numbers batting with runners in scoring position, where his average was .510 (25-for-49) at Norfolk and .571 (12-for-21) when batting with RISP and two outs.
“I’m not sure about that,” Ford said. “Things just worked out really good down there for whatever reason. I can’t put a finger on anything.”.
Does he think he will get a big chance to play every day with the Orioles?
“I don’t know. I always come in and just do what they ask of me,” Ford said. “I know they are in a playoff race and I’m excited to be a part of that and want to help any way I can.”
So nearly five years after his last big league game, on Sept. 30, 2007 for Minnesota at Boston, Ford is back in the bigs. He was just not ready to give up on the game.
“I love playing the game. I was doing it because I love it, not for the money or fame,” he said. “I love the competition and everything about baseball. It kind of got me back to that by going to the independent league, why I’m playing. I’m going to enjoy this 100 times more than the first time. This is just awesome.”
That big smile of his remained front and center.