A major-league rookie with the Minnesota Twins at 26 years old in 2003, Lew Ford received AL MVP votes a year later, and he also helped them reach the playoffs both seasons. But by age 30 injuries and slumps forced Ford out of the majors and on his way to an around-the-world odyssey that had him playing everywhere from Japan to Mexico and back in the United States with an independent team in the Atlantic League.
Deciding to give baseball one more shot in 2012, Ford broke camp with the Atlantic League one more time. He signed with the Orioles in May and put up great numbers for Norfolk at Triple-A — .331/.390/.550 with 11 homers, 14 doubles, three triples and eight stolen bases. On Sunday, about two weeks before he was to turn 36, the O's called him up and he did this in left field:
Batting in the fifth spot in the order, Ford also drew a walk in Baltimore's 6-1 victory against the Athletics. The Orioles are fighting for a playoff spot and playing one of the hottest teams in the league, yet manager Buck Showalter found himself willing to use Ford in the middle of his lineup. And judging from his comments, Ford simply is overjoyed with having made it back. He tweeted this Saturday night, along with a picture of Camden yards, on the eve of his return:
The tougher the battle the sweeter the victory. This is crazy I'm back! Thank you everyone who supported and believed
— Lew ford (@Captainlew20) July 29, 2012
Is Ford's nickname "Captain Lew" because of wrestling's "Captain" Lou Albano? He would be cooler if it was. Then again, Lew Ford always seemed a little cooler than most major leaguers. He's a "Lew" when most are just "Lou." And many fans, especially Twins fans, remember that Ford was a valuable member of the "Piranha Era" Twinkies.
He was a productive ballplayer, at least for a while, but I also liked, because of his natural smile, how he looked like Greg Maddux a little. Not everyone does, you know.
Japan in 2008. Louisville and the Long Island Ducks in 2009. Mexico in 2010. Back to the Ducks in 2011. And finally, after nearly three months in the minors, Baltimore and the big leagues in '12. Via this report by MASN, Ford was still bursting with excitement after his first game back:
"This is kind of more than I could have dreamed of," Ford said this morning in the Orioles' clubhouse.
Getting a little serious for a moment, the Orioles are owed a great deal of credit for giving Ford a shot. Perhaps it has something to do with the O's giving Dan Duquette a shot at GM after all of those years away. But Showalter, too:
"That's one of the great things about this job is that I get to take in those moments," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I had him come into my office today and you could tell it's a special day for him. I hope tomorrow's a special day too."
Lew Ford is back in the majors, playing ball and doing the hip bump. He might be just an average player, but we missed him anyway while he was gone.