NEW YORK — Occasionally, as he toiled through 572 games as a minor league baseball player, Mike Ford would talk to his former classmates from Princeton and wonder if he made the right choice by betting on baseball.
“I saw some of what my friends were making compared to what I was making,” Ford told Yahoo Sports, “and think, man I could be doing something different right now.”
On Tuesday, as most of the Yankee faithful were bemoaning the 12th person to the IL — Greg Bird is out at least a month with a left plantar fascia tear — Ford’s commitment to baseball finally paid off. He was called up by the New York Yankees from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to back up Luke Voit at first base and provide left-handed power in the lineup.
“But this is what it’s all for. You know?” Ford said before Tuesday’s game against the Boston Red Sox, for which he did not play but was, finally, on a major league roster. “All that time. Six years is totally washed away. I didn’t think that would be the feeling, but it’s all worth it.”
Ford knew he was good at baseball at a young age. “Ever since I could pick up a ball,” he said. At six years old he was playing pick-up games with his brother’s friends, who were all five years older. The Fords are Yankees fans, too. He grew up in Belle Meade, New Jersey — just an hour and 20 minutes from the Bronx; close enough that his father used to take the boys to alternating games every time the Yankees made the playoffs. Mike would go to Game 1, his brother to Game 2, Mike would go to Game 6, his brother would be there for ALCS Game 7 in 2003 when Aaron Boone launched a walk-off home run off Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield in the 11th inning en route to another World Series title.
Ah well, there were plenty of wins to go around if you were a Yankees fan in the early aughts.
But the Ford Family, although supportive of their youngest son’s love of baseball, prioritized and preached the value of a good education. Both of Mike’s parents are doctors and now his big brother is, too. So when he got into Princeton?
“My dad said it wouldn’t be very smart to turn it down,” Ford said.
He got a history degree, matured a little bit, was able to pitch and hit, and played for coach Scott Bradley, who became like a second father to Ford. He chose college to set himself up for life after baseball, but it likely hurt his draft stock. Despite being named the Ivy League pitcher of the year and the Ivy league player of the year, the Yankees were able to pick him up as an undrafted free agent in 2013.
And then he spent parts of seven seasons working his way steadily through each level of the minor leagues. His first crack at the bigs came when the Seattle Mariners selected him in the Rule 5 Draft ahead of the 2018 season. But they sent him back to the Yankees rather than put him on the 25-man roster on the final day of spring training.
“That was tough,” Ford said. “I think I was like 12 hours from making the team, so that was a tough one.”
He probably wouldn’t have drawn it up that way — the disappointment, not to mention the logistics of not knowing what coast he’d be living on until the very last moment — but it did set up Ford to break in with his hometown team. After smashing five home runs in 10 games at Triple-A for a 1.364 OPS, Ford got a call from RailRiders manager Jay Bell Monday night.
“I’m gonna give you the day off tomorrow but you’re not going to be off here, you’re going to be off in New York,” Bell told Ford.
The news wouldn’t be announced until the next day so Ford called his family and then went back to the hotel in Scranton where he lives during the season and just laid awake, staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that the morning would bring.
He took a car right to the stadium — his phone blowing up with messages from hometown friends in North Jersey and college friends who have since moved to the city, all telling him that they were buying tickets to the game — without bothering to figure out where he was staying first.
“All my life is in the back room,” Ford said, sitting in the Yankees clubhouse Tuesday afternoon.
In college, Ford had planned to study econ, which would have been a good fallback career except he hated microeconomics. Which is all well and good as far as Ford is concerned. He got the degree like his parents wanted him to and he made it through the underpaid gauntlet of the minors and now when someone asks what he would do if he didn’t play baseball he says, “I try not to think about that. For right now, hopefully I just stay here for a little bit.”
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