The 2007 season for the Twins ended on Sept. 30 in Fenway Park. Lew Ford replaced Torii Hunter in center field late in the game and had one at-bat. This proved to be Ford’s last game for the Twins, and Hunter’s last game for the franchise until his excellent walkoff season in 2015 at Target Field.
Ford also had replaced Hunter in Lew’s first game for the Twins, on May 29, 2003. He singled to lead off the ninth. We can’t be sure if the remnants of that night’s crowd announced at 16,409 were the first to salute the outfielder with a hoot of “Looooo,” but it soon became a Metrodome tradition.
Did Lew hear the chant when away from the Metrodome?
“All the time,” Ford said this week. “Everywhere I’ve been. When I hear ‘Loooo,’ I know some Minnesotans are nearby.”
Lew had played 499 games (including five in postseason) for the Twins, and then came Everywhere:
Hanshin in Japan, Caribes in Venezuela, the Long Island Ducks, the Mexican League (summer and winter). Louisville and Norfolk in the International League, and then on a morning in late July 2012, there it was in the big-league transactions:
“Baltimore Orioles: Purchased contract of outfielder Lew Ford from Norfolk (AAA).”
Lew? “Looooo?” Back in the big leagues after five years, and at what age?
Answer: 36, in two weeks.
“All of a sudden, there he was in the boxscore … Lew,” Hunter said. “Every time guys from those Twins teams ran into each other, we’d say, ‘Did you see Lew is back?’ We were so excited for him.’
Torii started randomly laughing into his cellphone on Wednesday, as did Ron Gardenhire, Ford’s manager for all of those “Looooos” inside the Dome, a few minutes earlier.
“We used to call Lew ‘Can’t Get Right’ in the clubhouse, from that Eddie Murphy-Martin Lawrence prison comedy, but it wasn’t to ridicule him,” Hunter said. “It was because he was such a unique character. We loved that guy so much.”
Torii laughed some more and said: “I also want to say Lew played the game harder than anybody. He battled at the plate, on the bases, in the field. He never quit.”
Still hasn’t quit, actually — not even with the latest season of the independent Long Island Ducks delayed by the coronavirus and with his 44th birthday four months away.
“I still do love playing, and I’m still able to play well,” Ford said. “Obviously, a lot of that is the situation I’m in. Our league [Atlantic] has better teams than ever, but we’re not facing high-90s too often.
“It’s a lot of fun here. Wally Backman’s our manager, I’m the hitting coach, and we won the league last year. Working with the younger guys … it keeps you fresh.”
Lew Ford works exclusively with younger guys, since he’s the Atlantic League’s oldest player, “by quite a few years.”
Mike Pfaff, the Ducks general manager, first signed Ford in 2009, after Lew came back from Japan and then was cut by the Rockies in spring training. He played 93 games for the Ducks before being signed late in August for the Reds’ Class AAA Louisville farm club.
Ford was back for a full Ducks season in 2011, started 2012 there, signed with the Orioles’ Class AAA club in Norfolk, Va. and then … the big leagues, for a last 25 games and 71 at-bats as he was turning 36.
He didn’t hit for Norfolk to start the next season, was let go by the Orioles, wound up back in Long Island in 2014. Since then, he had a brief stop with Tijuana in the Mexican League, and played several winters in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic (or both), before settling in as the Ducks hitting coach as well as a frequent designated hitter.
“I bought a home here in Islip on Long Island, near our ballpark, five years ago,” Ford said.
Lew has three children with his first wife who lives in the Dallas area. He shares this home with fiancée Gladys Febres. I’m predicting great things for this marriage, if the background noise in this phone conversation was an indicator.
Ford was confirming some of the Twins’ greatest Lew stories, and Gladys was breaking up at his responses — particularly, all-time Lew No. 1: ironing a shirt while wearing it.
“I suppose that’s true,” Lew said. “I wasn’t going to say anything in the clubhouse, but I had to take my shirt off to get in uniform, and a couple of players noticed the outline of the iron on my chest.”
Gardenhire: “Lew was heavy into that gaming stuff early. He would take that tower with him on road trips.”
Hunter: “We’re waiting for our luggage at the airport. Here comes a desktop computer and a tower sliding down the belt. We all said, ‘Gotta be Lew.’ ”
Gardenhire: “I got thrown out of a game. As I’m leaving, I say, ‘Lew, get out there and pinch run.’ I want him to steal, but when he takes off … he’d forgotten to tie a shoe and off it comes.”
Hunter: “We’re in New York, Mariano [Rivera] is coming in, and Gardy hasn’t decided whether to hit Jason Kubel, new to us then, or Lew. Gardy says, ‘Lew, get ready to hit.’
“Lew looks out at Rivera warming up, looks at Gardy and says, ‘Uh uh.’ ”
And then Torii laughed for 10 seconds, and said: “He’s still playing and I’m not surprised. I was with him for five years. Nothing with Lew’s going to surprise me.”
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