Mike Ford’s road from undrafted free agency to the Yankees was long and difficult, but the New Jersey product finally got to suit up for his childhood favorite club earlier this season.
The 27-year-old first baseman is back in Scranton where he has continued to dominate Triple-A to remain on the Yankees’ radar.
“I always believed that I could have a year like this. I just stuck to what I was doing my whole career,” said Ford, who made his Yankee debut on April 26. He was called up to take the injured Greg Bird’s spot on the roster and remained with the club until May 3.
Ford then had a second stint with the team earlier this month, before getting sent back down on July 6.
The callups came in the midst of a career year in Triple-A, where he has hit .300 with a .403 on-base percentage, .607 slugging percentage and 20 home runs through Friday. Ford will look to hit his way back to the bigs, but for now, his time in pinstripes is fresh in his mind.
“It's still tough to put into words for me, but it was an awesome first experience up there,” he said. “To be able to debut at Yankee Stadium, where I spent a bunch of my life as a kid going to games, and having my whole family there was really special.”
Ford went 7-for-30 with nine walks in the majors, including his first big league home run on April 23 against the Angels in Anaheim.
It is a memorable milestone for any ballplayer, but also one that carried extra weight for Ford, given his unique route to the majors.
He went undrafted after his junior year at Princeton University and signed with the Yankees in July 2013. That began his journey up the minor league ladder, a difficult trek for anyone, especially someone without a draft pedigree.
“If everyone says their journey is easy, it's not, no matter how easy it may seem on paper,” Ford said. “There have been times where there's doubt . . .you sit there thinking, 'Okay is this thing ever going to happen?'"
A payoff seemed imminent in December 2017, when Seattle selected Ford in the Rule 5 draft. Players chosen in that draft cannot be optioned to the minors, so they must either remain on their new team’s 25-man roster all season or get placed on waivers en route to being offered back to his old club.
“I looked at my phone and I had like 60 text messages already about a half-hour after it happened,” Ford said of his Rule 5 selection. “I'm not going to lie. I cried. I said, 'this is my opportunity.'”
Unfortunately for him, the opportunity did not come, as the Mariners placed him on waivers after spring training, which he cleared, bringing him back to the Yankees.
“Probably one of the toughest things [I had to deal with in my career] was getting sent back from Seattle...The first few months of the year were tough,” Ford said of the beginning of the 2018 season in Scranton. “You think you're going to be somewhere and then your whole life changes the next day. It's a tough thing.”
The challenges of dealing with this were evident at the plate, where Ford hit .217 in the first half of that year. He returned to form after the All-Star break, slashing .289/.349/.500 to close the year and began this season where he left off to finally earn that big league opportunity.
"It's a memory that no one will ever be able to take from anyone that does it," Ford said. "I checked a bunch of firsts off the list and now it's time to just go play and be myself."
Position: First Base
2019 stats for Triple-A Scranton (through Friday):
On-Base Percentage: .403
Slugging Percentage: .607
Home Runs: 20