By: Connor Sullivan, Video Production Intern, Michigan State
July 23, 2013
Cotuit is a baseball town. It lives for summer. Twenty-two nights a year the stands of Lowell Park are packed to the brim with fans basking in the aroma of hot dogs grilling and the sounds of wood bats cracking. They come to cheer on their Kettleers.
One of the greatest sports films of all time is easily 2004’s Friday Night Lights, a brilliantly told true story of a high school football team in the small town of Odessa, Texas and its impact on the community. One of the subplots in the movie is the story of Boobie Miles, a can’t miss running back with scholarship offers from every school in the country and his sights set on the pros.
During the first practice of the season, a montage of Boobie juking, spinning, cutting, hurdling, running around, through, and over defenders, all while the nation’s top scouts take notice. Sitting right there with the scouts is his is enthused uncle L.V. who dishes out perhaps the best quote of the entire movie. He looks out the scouts and exclaims “That boy can play some football. He can play left, he can play right, don’t make no difference. He can block, tackle, score the touch down, snap the ball, and kick the extra point. Hell, the boy will fill up the Gatorade cooler, walk the dog, and paint your back porch. I’m telling ya, the boy can plain outplay football.” Just when you think L.V. is done boasting about how incredible his nephew is, Boobie chucks a halfback pass fifty yards down field to a wide open receiver for a touchdown to which L.V. joyfully announces “And he can pass!”
This summer in Cotuit, a Boobie Miles emerged.
Most Kettleer fans were familiar with who Mike Ford was at the beginning of the summer. He was the two way player from Princeton who put up solid numbers from the plate yet struggled at times out of the bullpen. In 32 games from the plate he had hit .252 with two homers and 17 RBI . In six appearances on the bump, including one start, he posted a 6.56 ERA in just 12.1 innings of work.
Fans were excited to have to the Ivy League slugger back for a second season, but nobody saw this coming.
Ford’s junior year for the Tigers was the best season by an individual in the fifty-six year history of Ivy League baseball. From the plate, Ford hit .320, 6 home runs, 38 RBI, a OBP of .443, and an Ivy League leading 31 walks. As scary as he was at the plate, he was even more dominant from the mound. In nine starts, he was 6-0 with a jaw dropping 0.98 ERA, five complete games, a shutout, opponents only hit .191 against him, and that ERA translates to only seven earned runs for the entire season.
Following his dominance all over the diamond he was awarded the Ivy League Player and Pitcher of the year. He’s the only player in conference history to win both awards over the course of his career, and he did it one season.
After a season like that, it was surprising to many that all thirty teams in the MLB passed on him in the draft.
A glance at Ford and you may see what they were thinking at the time: a 6’0”, 210 lbs two way player coming from a collegiate program not known for churning out major leaguers. His fastball could only reach 90 MPH on his best day and his breaking ball won’t fool many hitters at the next level. He doesn’t have a true position in the field and the fact that he’s built like a rugby player limits your options.
But numbers never lie.
In 26 games, Ford smacked a league leading .407 average, five home runs, 18 RBI, a .495 on base percentage, and an eye popping .663 slugging percentage.
Ford showed up in Cotuit this summer on a mission: to prove the scouts wrong. After putting up big numbers the summer before and a monstrous spring he knew could cut it in the Cape.
“I’m much more relaxed, I’ll tell you that.” says Ford. “I’ve faced this pitching, I’ve seen it, I have confidence when I hit, and I have confidence on the mound.”
And it shows.
In his first appearance of the season on the hill, Ford went five scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
How does he do it? How is he able to pitch just as well as he hits? As Mike puts it “I try to get in a hitters mind when I’m on the mound and throw them what I wouldn’t want to see and when I’m hitting, I don’t guess on pitches or anything, but you kind of have an inner thought on what’s going to occur.” It’s that Ivy League brain of his that sets him apart from the completion. That brain has given him to ability to play and succeed at five different positions in the field for the Kettleers this season.
Perhaps there was no greater display of how knowing what a pitcher is thinking can affect a hitter than his July 13th performance against Hyannis.
The seats behind the backstop were overflowing with scouts eager to find the next big thing. What they were about to see was the greatest individual performance of the entire summer.
Ford stepped into the batters box, tapped his bat against the plate and pointed it at the pitcher with his right hand until the pitcher was set. The wind up came and Ford croaked one into the foliage beyond the right field wall.
Then he did it again.
The Kettleers beat in-town rival Hyannis 5-0. Mike Ford was four-for-four with five RBI, including two home runs.
All the scouts could think was “And he can pass!”
With his bat he had single handedly won his team a key division game and wowed fans all over. Kids fled to him with balls and hats after the game hoping to score an autograph as if he had just won the World Series. Mike Ford was on top of the Cape League.
He was nine for his last 11 and the top priority for every scout in the league.
Ford was a local celebrity. Even manager Mike Roberts knew it was only a matter of time. “Today’s one of those days that you don’t have very often as a player and Mike Ford had a day for memory, without a doubt. I’m happy for him, I think every player on the team enjoyed watching him and we congratulate him because we don’t know how long he’s going to be here because he is going to sign a pro contract soon.”
And he was right.
A day later, Mike Ford played his last game as a Kettleer.
Boobie Miles’ last game was the result of a tragic knee injury the destroyed any hopes and dreams he had of playing in the pros. It was taken away from him in a single moment and leads to perhaps one of the bigger tear jerking scenes in movie history once he realizes he’ll never play professional football.
Mike Ford left Cotuit on his own terms.
On July 14th, 2013, Mike Ford signed a contract with the New York Yankees, his childhood favorite since growing up New Jersey.
The following day, the Kettleers announced over the public address system that their best player was moving on to bigger and better things and pursuing his dream as a professional baseball player.
He was greeted with a standing ovation.
He had done it. The guy with no position, no God given arm, no powerhouse program, and no team who would take a chance on him was going to be playing with the organization that gave us Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Roger Maris, and Derek Jeter.
It’s been nine days since Ford parted ways with the Kettleers, currently a member of the Staten Island Yankkes, the Class A short season affiliate of the Yankees, his .409 batting average is still 19 points higher than second place in the Cape League, his .663 slugging percentage is 67 points higher than his predecessor, and his .495 on base percentage is 18 points higher than his follower.
The do-it-all Mike Ford has left the Kettleers. Probably as one of the best the team has ever had. But as tough an out as he was, he couldn’t help but get choked up when reflecting on what the last two years have given him.
“It really helps you refine your skills and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything else. It’s been a great, great experience with all the people around and the atmosphere in all the parks, and ours is obviously the best I think, but its been a wonderful experience and I’m going to miss it, for sure.”
Though it may be tough one day for Massachusetts natives to see, nobody in the Cape League deserves to don the pinstripes more than Mike Ford.