At 1 p.m. today in Vineland, N.J., home-health-care aide Carla Ford received a call from her mother, who had received a text from California.
Darren Ford, Carla’s 24-year-old son, had been named the winner this morning of the annual award given to a player in his first big-league camp “whose performance and dedication in Spring Training best exemplifies the San Francisco Giants spirit.”
The Harry S. Jordan Award is a big deal because it’s voted on by the Giants’ players, coaches and training staff. Tim Lincecum won it in 2007, Brian Bocock in 2008 and Joe Martinez last year. All three made it to the majors in the year they won.
“Darren’s very humble, so he didn’t let me know, but I’m sure he would have told me about it later,” Carla Ford said by phone a few hours after she had heard the news. (Ford’s host family from the San Jose Giants had texted Carla’s mother with the news.)
Ford has batted .500 (10-for-20) with two doubles, one triple, four RBI and four stolen bases in 17 games this spring for the Giants. Last year Ford played for Single-A San Jose. He batted 300 in 101 games and helped the team to its highest regular season win total in franchise history (93 wins) and the California League Championship.
No one in Vineland seems surprised by Ford’s success. He was a star not only in baseball but football, basketball and track in the city of about 55,000 people in Southern Jersey.
“He was always the fastest of the fast,” says Ford’s 24-year-old cousin, Kevin Ford, who said he thought Darren would end up in professional football.
Darren, too, thought he might pursue football. His mother watched him one day in high school as he sifted through letters from football, baseball and track coaches from different colleges.
“Oh my god, Darren, how are going to decide what to do?”
“Mom, I’m leaving it in God’s hands.”
“You’re right,” she said.
Soon afterward, Darren attended a baseball tryout at a local college where he caught the eye of a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers. After a year at Chipola College in Florida, the Brewers drafted Ford in the 18th round of the 2004 draft. He came to the Giants in the 2007 trade that sent Ray Durham to the Brewers.
But it’s no surprise, really, that Ford ended up in baseball instead of football. It’s in his blood. His grandfather, Ted Ford, played in the majors for four years for the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, from 1970 to 1973. Ted Ford has lived in Texas since Darren was born and has had little interaction with his grandson beyond the occasional phone call. So Darren was raised and shaped by women – his mother, her five sisters and their mother – plus Darren’s own two sisters.
Carla Ford, a single parent, born and raised in Vineland, worked from 10:30 at night until 7 in the morning as an aide at a residential facility for mentally handicapped women. (Two years ago, she took on a second job, working days as a home health care aide from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.) She raised her children in a three-bedroom apartment, pushing them to play sports. She attended every game she could.
“I would always tell Darren, ‘Don’t come home (after school). Too much stuff to get into here,’ ” Carla says.
If Ford begins the season with the Giants’ Double A team in Richmond, VA, about 35 family members from Vineland are planning to attend Opening Day.
“We’re such a close-knit family,” says Darren’s grandmother, Beverly Ann Borden. “I know Darren gets very homesick, so we try to visit him every place he plays. We were in San Jose last year and everybody there treated us so well.”
Perhaps, before the year is out, San Francisco will be on the travel schedule for the Ford family from Vineland, N.J.