Have bat, will travel: Mariners Mike Ford's tumultuous '22

May 25th, 2023
Mike Ford played for four different Major League clubs and each of their Triple-A affiliates in 2022.

TACOMA, Wash. -- When Mike Ford told his current manager, John Russell, about his 2022 season, Russell had an apt response: "That's not a season. That's a career!"

That about sums it up. Ford, a heavy-hitting first baseman and designated hitter, is currently a member of Seattle's Triple-A club: the Tacoma Rainiers. He started 2022 with the Rainiers as well, but his past and present stints with Tacoma bookend one of the most peripatetic periods a professional player could ever hope to (not) go through.

Ford's MiLB.com player page lists 32 transactions for 2022 alone, a year in which he put the "journey" in "journeyman." These transactions -- so terse and impersonal, yet so important to the individual to which they apply -- cumulatively feature just about every verb that can be applied to a player on the move, and many of them happened several times over.

The now-30-year-old, originally signed by the New York Yankees as an undrafted free agent in 2013, was assigned, placed, activated, selected, optioned, designated, traded, claimed, recalled and released over the course of a sprawling nationwide odyssey in which he played for four Major League teams AND each of their Triple-A affiliates.

For those keeping score at home, that would be Seattle and Tacoma, San Francisco and Sacramento, Seattle (again), Atlanta and Gwinnett, and finally the Los Angeles Angels and Salt Lake City. He appeared in 84 games, 50 at the Major League level (including a one-inning cameo as a pitcher for the Braves). Between jobs, he'd return to his home in Tampa and wait for the next offer to materialize.

Have bat, will travel.

Ford spoke in an easy, affable tone when recalling the 2022 season, and let out a laugh when asked to consider the rarity of his accomplishment.

"I don't think many guys have gone through that, in the history of baseball," he said, speaking in an empty batting cage at Tacoma's Cheney Stadium prior to a game earlier this month. "But, yeah, it was really tough. I mean, the thing I probably learned the most about myself last year was to just go out and play when you have to. Just go compete. You know, there'd be stretches where I'd be home for 10 days in between transactions. At one point, I think I'd played three games in 21 days and then I got traded back here [to the Seattle Mariners, from San Francisco]. And I think I had to face [Max] Scherzer the first night [May 13]. So it's just battle mode."

Ford went 0-for-1 against Scherzer that night, along with a walk and -- welcome back to the big leagues -- was hit by a pitch. It could have been worse, and sometimes, it was.

"When I got traded from Seattle to San Francisco, the first time [before being traded back to Seattle], I got a phone call about one in the morning that I had been traded," he said. "So I was at the airport at 4:30 a.m. for a one o'clock game the next day in San Francisco. So, yeah, a lot of people don't know that side of what goes into it.

"It's nice to have a great support system, a great family, a great girlfriend, to help everything through," he continued. "But yeah, last year I went from having three bags at the beginning of the year to one. Things got a little tighter. ... It's a whirlwind, there's ups and downs, there's peaks and valleys. Probably more valleys than peaks last year, but it was nice to see a bunch of different places, see what I liked about certain places and what I didn't and get to adjust."

Ford ended the 2022 season with what he calls a nice "consolation prize:" Living on the beach in Malibu during a month-long stint with the Los Angeles Angels. He then became a free agent, and in January, signed (yet again) with Seattle. He hasn't made it back to the Mariners yet this season but his play in Tacoma has been exemplary, indicative of having finally been able to get back into a day-to-day routine with the same teammates and the same coaching staff. Through his first 44 games of 2023, Ford compiled a .995 OPS with 10 home runs and 48 RBIs.

"I'm just in a really good spot mentally, with a great place to live and I've been enjoying my time off the field," he said. "It makes everything a little bit better."

The season is still young, however. Ford knows better than anyone else that, between now and October, there could still be innumerable twists and turns.

"It's all sunshine and rainbows until life hits you in the face," he said. "It's crazy, but it's worth it."