PEORIA, Ariz. — They weren’t lectures, but mostly one-sided conversations where he listened more than spoke, offering up questions to what he was being told or observations from his experience — almost two whole days — of Seattle Mariners spring training.
For the better part of 20 minutes, with a mixture of intensity and honesty, Cal Raleigh offered up information, advice and whatever else came to mind about playing baseball’s toughest position at the game’s highest level.
When Raleigh went to catch a bullpen session, Tom Murphy, who had been catching for Marco Gonzales, walked over and started up a new conversation about roughly the same subjects, but in his own intense and verbose ways.
The input was also welcomed.
Welcome to the baseball education of Harry Ford.
It’s constant and continuous in its message, diverse in its lessons and teachers and accepted without protest or hesitation.
“It’s been a great experience being here, just being around older guys,” Ford said. “I’m just really learning from them by watching and seeing how they do things. My goal is just to keep learning from them, just keep watching them, just keep taking notes of anything that I see. And then also perform when the time comes and be able to use everything that I’m gaining here to help me out when the games start.”
While he didn’t divulge full details of the conversations, Ford said he was grateful for them. These weren’t one-offs — it’s daily communication.
“It’s recognizing what a major-leaguer looks like and what it’s like for a beginner like me,” Ford said. “It’s my first time I’m out there and I don’t really know what I’m doing a lot. Cal has just kind of given me a lot of pointers about what he wished that he knew coming into it. He’s telling me to know where you’ve got to be, write your schedule out and prepare for everything in the day. It’s been just a lot of little things.”
Manager Scott Servais smiled when told about the veterans taking the time to talk to Ford. He didn’t ask for it or even encourage it, but he hopes it only continues.
“I’ve never really pushed that on players but it’s fun when you see it happening,” he said. “It’s really been a nice shift, probably in the last couple of years in our clubhouse. Our veteran players — the ones that come through your system or have been here — they have that connection. Let’s help this guy out. We’ll pass this along versus players that come in from organizations. They’re always a little bit more standoffish.”
Ford also learned quickly that catchers have the longest days at the complex during spring training, and it’s best to arrive early.
“The first day I walked into the gym at probably like 7 a.m., thinking ‘I’m ok, I’ve got like 45 minutes to get ready to hit and everything,’” Ford said. “So I walk in and Cal and Murph and Jake (Anchia) and like five of the catchers are there in a full sweat and working out. I’m just like, ‘Oh, so this is how it’s going to be. OK, I’ve got to do that.’ I cleaned that up the next day.”
If there is any pretension or arrogance that comes from being a first-round pick — No. 12 overall in the 2021 MLB draft — or getting named as the top prospect in the Mariners organization and a top 100 prospect in all of baseball by every major publication, Ford has yet to show it.
“He’s a really intelligent kid and he’s very inquisitive in that he wants to get better, he wants to learn and he’s not afraid to ask questions, which is great,” Servais said. “It lets us speed up his learning curve a little bit.”
Built like a fullback, including a lower half that says he’s never skipped a leg day in the weight room in his life, it’s easy to forget that just two years ago Ford was sitting in a classroom at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Monday was the last day Ford would be a teenager. He turned 20 on Tuesday.
“I’m about to join the club,” he said with a laugh. “It’s kind of sad.”
Since Ford was born in Great Britain, Servais has elected him to be the world news reporter in the daily morning team meeting. On Sunday, Ford did the entire report in a British accent.
“It was really good,” Servais said. “Both his parents were born in London and he nailed it. He did not miss a word the entire time. It was real.”
On the field, Ford has impressed Servais and the staff with his athleticism. He may be built like a tank, but he moves more like an ATV.
“Harry’s really athletic,” Servais said. “He can do a lot of things behind the plate. He can really throw. Some things he tries to do a little bit too fast, which is pretty typical of a young player. He’s still got things to work on, but the improvements he’s made from where he was a year ago when I first saw him to what I’m seeing now, I’m really curious to see how it plays out in some of these games and see where it goes from there.”
Some of those games will come against the best players in the world as the starting catcher for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic. The opportunity makes Ford giddy in anticipation.
“It just doesn’t feel real,” he said. “I’m already every day coming in here just like, ‘whoa, I’m in big league camp. I can’t believe that.’ Then to think that I’m going to be playing in Phoenix against Team USA and Mexico. It doesn’t feel real yet.”
It will feel real when Mike Trout steps into the batter’s box on March 11. And it will feel surreal when a childhood idol comes to bat.
“The craziest thing is knowing that Freddie Freeman is gonna be there because I was always a big Braves fan,” he said. “The first time I went to spring training I was like eight years old. He was a rookie and he signed my ball. It’s crazy because I’m literally almost the same age and in the same spot as him, and I’m still gonna be playing against guys like him in the World Baseball Classic.”
The Mariners believe playing in the WBC will only further Ford’s baseball education.
“It’ll be things he’s never experienced before,” Servais said. “Really, the next 30 days or so should be huge for his development.”
As one of the youngest players in the Low-A Cal League last year, Ford started slowly. He posted a .209/.370/.291 slash line with three doubles, two homers, 14 RBI, 25 walks and 39 strikeouts in his first 30 games.
“Honestly, I just wasn’t comfortable,” he said. “I didn’t know how to live on my own. I was kind of just nervous every day being around some of the older guys. I just didn’t feel like myself.”
Over the next 75 games, he had a .300/.446/.496 slash line with 20 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 51 RBI, 63 walks, 76 strikeouts and 16 stolen bases.
“My coaches helped me figure out how to be me,” he said. “Once I got that little spark, I flew from there.”
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