Tuesday, December 31, 2013

50 Pictures From My Life in Baseball

I start missing baseball intensely around this time every year.
I want nothing more than to grab my glove, hop on a bus home to Connecticut, and have a catch with my brothers and my nephews. That feeling grows every time the temperature drops below freezing or it snows here in Boston…which is all the time.
Rather than halfheartedly rooting for the New England Patriots’ playoff run to distract myself, I decided to look back at 50 pictures that define my 29 years as a devoted baseball fan (hey, I’m not 30 for another month, so pipe down). My hope is by the time I’m done reminiscing pitchers and catchers will be reporting for spring training.
As a good friend of mine said one winter, “There is a light at the end of the tunnel…and that light is baseball.”
1. This list starts in the same place Hardball Heart originated: my father. My baseball roots run deep because of him. Here he is with his Little League All-Star team in 1963. 12-year-old Ken Ford is the one wearing glasses. The only one.

2. My introduction to baseball. I’m three and a half months old in this picture.

3. My father and I leaning up against a fence watching my younger brother’s Little League All-Star team.

4. Having a catch with my younger brother Patrick. In those days, he took frequent breaks to eat a Pop-Tart. Now we take breaks for beer (see number 45).

5. Patrick and I played a lot of Wiffle ball in the backyard growing up. Our uncle made us a clubhouse that we turned into a Hall of Fame. Here I am next to my section.

6. Photo evidence that I was once a baseball player. I’m the last player in the first row on the right. My first coach—also my life coach/older brother Tom Ford—is standing on the far left.
7. Me in my Phantoms uniform. I was number 4 at this point. It’s hard to believe I didn’t turn out to be a good baseball player.

8. Oh wait, no it’s not.
9. On a cool, clear night at venerable Muzzy Field, I trotted across the field to receive the sportsmanship/most improved player award. The best part was that my older brother was the one to hand me the award.
10. This is my last moment as a baseball player. I don’t have a lot of regrets, but not playing at least one year at the next level of Pony League might be one of them. I did make $500 a summer for a couple of years keeping score for that league though.

11. I also stayed close to the game by becoming the assistant coach for Patrick’s Little League team. I almost got thrown out of a game for questioning an umpire who said he called balls and strikes based on the batter’s reaction to the pitch. This baseball will be cremated with me.
12. 2004 was my first season as the equipment manager for St. John’s Baseball. I did a lot of dopey things that year, including leaving three players at a McDonald’s in Texas, but I got to watch live baseball games in February, experience an NCAA tournament game at Stanford University’s Sunken Diamond, and stand on a table while 25 other guys sang “Happy Birthday” to me at a Golden Corral in Arkansas (it was not my birthday).
13. The pitching coach at St. John’s at the time was Scott Brown, who also happened to be the head coach of a college summer league team in Sanford, Maine. He asked if I wanted to be his media relations intern not too long after I started my tenure as equipment manager. I had two days off between the end of school and the start of the season. By summer’s end, I had seen more than 100 live baseball games in the first eight months of the year. It’s probably the most concentrated amount of baseball I’ve ever experienced. In this picture, my fellow intern Ellis and I are scoping out chicks from the press box. I wore my old Phantoms shirt underneath my Mainers shirt for good luck.  
14. My family drove all the way to New Hampshire to visit me and take in a game. Great photo bombs in this one of me and Patrick.

15. The best part about non-stop work, constant travel, and a permanent farmer’s tan is winning it all. I’m at the bottom of that dog pile.
16. Patrick and I in our uniforms. I was the only one of the Brothers Ford not to wear a Bristol Eastern jersey (not for lack of trying).
17. 2005 St. John’s Baseball. This team garnered 41 wins, won the Big East regular season championship, and beat a Virginia team in the NCAA tournament that featured Ryan Zimmerman. The Boston Red Sox drafted Craig Hansen in the first round that year. I ended up at a bar in Miami some time later and he was pitching. The bartender was impressed that I knew him and gave me a free drink.

18. #rings
19. Jack Kaiser Stadium at night. I got to see a lot of college ballparks, and there weren’t too many better than our home park. When they dedicated the field to the legendary coach Jack Kaiser, Bob Sheppard made all of the announcements. My chills still have chills.
20. Beating Norte Dame on national television. Is there a better feeling in sports?
21. My senior year at St. John’s. I’ll never forget making a run in the Big East tournament in Florida. We had to beat Norte Dame one more time at night to make it into the championship game, but ran out of arms. I didn’t want to leave that locker room and face the next day when I wouldn’t be the equipment manager any more.
22. Senior Night 2006. My father was adamant that he wasn’t going to step foot on the field. Yet, there he is standing right next to me in this picture. This moment probably made more of an impression on me than my actual graduation from school.
23. I’m holding a picture of me receiving the manager of the year award. There’s so much I want to tell this young Daniel, but, alas, I cannot.
24. Shooting the shit in front of the dugout before the start of the nationally televised game against Norte Dame. Not too many places I miss more.
25. My older brother Tom’s seats when he had weekend season tickets to the old Yankee Stadium.
26. My father and I sitting in said seats. Our heads don’t leave much room for background scenery.

27. The view of the field from those seats. The best time sitting there was during Dave Winfield day. We sat behind this group of guys that were drunk by the third inning. The unintentional comedy was off the charts, especially when they made fun of this guy who was overly excited to catch a foul ball. None of what they said is printable anywhere in the world.
28. The Brothers Ford and Pops in front of new Yankee Stadium during construction. I stopped being sad about the old place when I went to the bathroom at the new one for the first time and didn’t have to wedge myself in between 50 other (typically inebriated) gentlemen.
29. I started playing softball for the Noreasters in 2007. Not only did the team keep me rooted in the game I love, but it also provided a group of lifelong friends I don’t know what I would do without.
30. Artsy photo from my friend Scott during one of my first games. That Mainers hat had more wins in it. We went all the way to the championship game before getting beat by the Bobcats.
31.Randall’s Island, I will miss…nothing, I will miss nothing about you. But I will miss all the winning the Noreasters did there.
32. Celebrating after hitting a homerun at Roosevelt Island.
33. Back to Sunken Diamond! This was from a trip to California in 2008. I remembered to take a picture and buy a Stanford hat this time.
34. Standing in front of the old girl for one of the last times. Sniff.
35. My father in front of his hero Mickey Mantle’s number 7.
36. My father and I at the new Yankee Stadium. I swear, there is a great view behind those two melons.
37. Paul o’Neill autographed ball! I need to meet him in person.
38. Some Noreasters from 2011 in front of Rock Bar. Not long after this picture was taken, we were all extremely plastered.
39. A very Yankee 90th birthday. No one had the heart to tell my grandmother she was wearing a Mets hat.
40. Dan Sullivan and I before the Northeasters championship run. I played shortstop most of the year. Hey, stop laughing! It really happened!
42. A gay soccer team may or may not have helped me put this belt on.
43. My father grooming the next generation of baseball Fords. My nephew Jack is about to take a monstrous swing.
44. Notice my nephew Kevin’s Little League jersey. He plays for the same league my father played for in early 1960s.
45. Having a catch with my brothers typically involves a few beers. On days we forget to stock up, we have to make adjustments.
46. At a Red Sox game with the future Mrs. Hardball Heart. I wear my Yankees hat proudly around Boston.
47. My going away party at JCK Magazine involved a baseball bat. It may have something to do with the bottle of vodka Bill Furman is holding. Yes, it says “Balls.”
48. Before my last games as a Noreaster I made a bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I used to make them for St. John’s for in between doubleheaders. I still got it!
49. Every time I see this picture I start plotting my commute to New York City every weekend from April to August. Then I think about the look on the future Mrs. Hardball Heart’s face. Alas.
A Complete Guide to Hardball Heart's Baseball Posts: