Lew Ford Far From Rookie in September Races, But This One ‘Is Different’ for Recent Indy Outfielder
This isn’t Lew Ford’s first pennant race. Far from it. He was part of the Minnesota Twins teams that played in the American League Division Series in ’03, ’04 and ’06, and was a regular outfielder in the middle of those years when they were ousted by the New York Yankees in four games.
But the 36-year-old with a slightly receding hairline, who is part of the remarkable year coming down the stretch in Baltimore, has not seen anything to match this season. I do not believe it is merely that his own comeback via the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League after four full seasons out of the major leagues is so dramatic itself.
“You don’t get a break,” Ford told me in the hallway leading to the Orioles’ clubhouse barely three hours before he would be starting in right field in the opener of one more crucial series, this one against another of the American League East‘s prime contenders, Tampa Bay. “It is a little different here. Every series you are playing a good team.” The Yankees just left after a four-game split. After the Rays, the Orioles fly west to take on Oakland, another postseason contender. Well, you get the idea.
Ford’s year started with him openly wanting to be a part of bringing a championship to the Ducks, which he smiles about now. His contract was purchased by the O’s May 17 (when he was hitting .333). Then he hit .331 in the next 62 games for Triple-A Norfolk, VA before finally returning to the major leagues July 29. To put it somewhat into context, the 6-foot right-handed hitter went 1,774 days between major league hits.
Ford’s role has evolved into primarily starting against left-handers, especially since veteran starter Nick Markakis suffered a broken thumb last weekend which thinned the outfield corps. He is hitting only .183 (11-for-60 in 20 appearances), but he started one rally with a single up the middle in the thrilling 14-inning win Thursday (he was stranded at third base), and has three key home runs, all off contending teams. Two of the round-trippers were in back-to-back games against Chicago and one was against the Yankees. He also has made some sterling outfield plays, and has the fans freely hollering for Loooooo.
Don’t think for a moment Ford has forgotten Long Island.
“It would surprise a lot of people who have not seen a game”, he explained, of the quality of play in the Atlantic League. He also understands what happens in an Independent league. “It’s not money or fame. It’s camaraderie, there’s not the politics (of affiliated play). It’s baseball.” I hear similar comments over and over. This time it is from Lew Ford, now involved in a major league postseason chase.
Indy Represented by 13 in Triple-A Finals
While Lew Ford, Dane De La Rosa (Tampa Bay reliever) and several other Indy grads are hoping to help their major league teams reach the postseason, this corner is impressed that no less than 13 players with Independent ties—an average of more than three per team—are competing in the championship round of the two Triple-A leagues.
Nelson Figueroa (Long Island, NY, Atlantic League) was to have the opportunity this very night (Thursday) to pitch Boston’s top club (Pawtucket, RI) to the International League crown with catcher Mike Rivera (Atlantic City, NJ, Atlantic) and first baseman Reynaldo Rodriguez (Yuma, AZ, Golden League) also part of the team. Former Frontier League pitchers Dan Remenowsky, Brandon Kloess and Ryan Kussmaul plus first baseman Seth Loman (St. George, UT, Golden League) are part of the opposing Charlotte, NC (Chicago White Sox) team.
Reno, NV (Arizona) has an American Association slant with catcher Chris McMurray (Lincoln, NE and Grand Prairie, TX) and outfielder Brent Clevlen (Wichita, KS) plus pitcher Mike DeMark (York, PA, Atlantic, and Florence, KY, Frontier) on its Pacific Coast League finals team. Opponent Omaha, NE (Kansas City) also has three former Indy players in catcher Cody Clark (San Diego, Golden), infielder Anthony Seratelli (Windy City, Frontier) and outfielder Brandon Sisk (Bay Area, Continental League).
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Injuries Cost Valdes, Pomeranz September Pennant Outings
Two onetime Can-Am League pitchers, who very likely could have had significant roles in the final weeks of the hectic major league season, are going to be watching from the sidelines because of injuries.
Suddenly surging Philadelphia lost lefty Raul Valdes (New Jersey Jackals and Nashua, NH), most likely for the year, because of a torn meniscus in the right knee. He had been 3-2 record and had a 2.90 earned run average for 27 appearances.
Stu Pomeranz (Jackals) had a meteoric rise through the Baltimore farm system early this season, including three appearances (3.00) with the parent team, before suffering a severly pulled oblique. “He was going to impact us,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter told me this week, which gives the right-hander hopes for next season. Showalter said Pomeranz is back throwing at Baltimore’s spring training complex in Sarasota, FL. Pomeranz, 27, dazzled with 35 strikeouts (only three walks) in 23.1 innings combined between the O’s Double-A and Triple-A farm teams to start the year.
(Bob Wirz also writes about Independent Baseball on www.IndyBaseballChatter.com. Fans may subscribe to this Independent Baseball Insider column, which will be published 41 times in 2012, at www.WirzandAssociates.com or comment to RWirz@aol.com. The author has 16 years of major league baseball experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners, and lives in Stratford, CT.)