PEORIA, Ariz. — While he’s not been officially knighted, it’s fair to think that “Sir” Harry Ford is a nickname that might stick with him for the foreseeable future.
The Mariners’ top prospect arrived back from his stint as the starting catcher for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic on Thursday not to a royal welcome but to the duties of being the low man on the catching hierarchy. Ford caught Marco Gonzales’ warm-up and also was a reserve for the Mariners “B” game against the Padres.
He was living a less-structured existence while with the Great Britain team.
“It was just kind of like everything there was really last minute,” he said. “And we just didn’t really know all the time what was happening or if we would have BP on the field or where we were going to be on the field.”
The Mariners are structured if anything. And that orderly sense of things provides confidence. It’s something that Julio Rodriguez mentioned upon his return from the WBC — the value of structure. It’s something that pleases manager Scott Servais, who lives for that sort of aspect of his job.
“When you go in that setting, you take players from all different organizations and you kind of throw them all together and we’re not quite used to that sometimes. Your routines, your program gets a little bit out of whack and it’s just less comfortable. It’s what the structure does. It creates a confidence level and a comfort level.”
Ford looked very comfortable under the bright lights of Chase Field. He played in front of crowds of 40,000 and more in games vs. the U.S. and Mexico.
“I was a little star-struck like just being on the field and seeing how many people there were,” he said. “It wasn’t as surprising to me because I thought it would be. It felt like a normal game the whole time. But before the game started and I’m looking around I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’”
Ford called his own games during the four games, handling it like a big league catcher would in the regular season. He hit a pair of homers and left everyone participating impressed with his talent, poise and charisma for a 20-year-old.
“After the way he played the saxophone, nothing really surprises me after that,” Servais said, referring to a recent morning meeting that featured a band. “This is a pretty well-rounded kid and he handled everything great. I said that night he was catching against Team USA that we were watching him play his first major league game. And I said it to him, [Thursday] morning. He said, ‘You got that right.’ He said that it was a lot different and how you really have to pay attention to scouting reports and how you pitch guys. It was a really good learning experience for him.”
The U.S. held Mike Trout hitless in the game. So what his game plan?
“Really with him, it was just trying to just mix it up, tunnel pitches, make stuff look similar,” Ford said. “It wasn’t like we were trying to strike him out. We were just trying to get him to hit a bad pitch. That was the main thing.”
Ford’s only moment of being in awe of the whole moment was when they played Canada and Freddie Freeman, his childhood hero while growing up in Atlanta, was playing first base. As a kid, his parents took him to the Braves spring training in Orlando where he met and got an autograph from Freeman.
“I was just the biggest Braves fan as a kid,” he said.
So when Freeman stepped into the batter’s box for the first time, Ford was in awe.
“He said hi to me when he walked up to hit,” Ford said with delight. “He said, ‘Hey Harry,’ and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was actually one of my biggest star-struck moments when I came into the dugout and he was at first base.”
While there isn’t much of a British baseball tradition, Ford, with his ebullient personality, became the face of the team. The videos of him hitting home runs, the emotion he showed running the bases and the joy of him accepting a robe, crown and christening with a sword as part of Great Britain’s celebration went viral.
“It was everything and more than I could have imagined,” he said.
Ford watched Wednesday’s game between the U.S. and Colombia with anxious optimism. A U.S. win meant that Great Britain automatically qualified for the next WBC in three years.
“I was glued to the TV,” he said.
With Great Britain guaranteed a spot, perhaps they can do better than the bland uniforms that they brought out for this WBC. They were the subject of much social media mockery.
“I hope it’s a little better next time,” he said laughing. “I didn’t have a problem with them, but they can be better. I was just happy to be there.”
So he will be there again in three years?
“Oh yeah,” he said. “No question.”
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