Because his spot appeared assured in the Twins' starting lineup entering this season, one might have been lulled into believing Lew Ford was more secure about his situation on the club. After all, at this time last year, he had not yet been recalled from Triple-A. But from Ford's point of view, he takes nothing for granted.
"I'm not comfortable," Ford said. "I'm fighting to get in the lineup every day. It's not like anything is given to me." The 28-year-old has the perspective of losing out to Michael Ryan in a race for the reserve outfielder role in Spring Training 2004. But his trip back to Rochester didn't last long. An injury to Torii Hunter prompted Minnesota to summon Ford on April 10, 2004, to play center field. As everyone knows by now, he never went back down. Ford became the flavor of multiple months last summer while batting .299 with 15 home runs and 72 RBIs. He played in a team-high 154 games and led the Twins with 170 hits and 89 runs scored. Ford's speed made ground balls around the infield anything but routine. And his hustle earned him a near-cult following from fans that echoed baritone "Lewwwws" throughout the Metrodome every time he stepped in the batter's box or made even the most routine of catches. This season, Ford will be the everyday DH but will fill in around the outfield for Hunter, Shannon Stewart and Jacque Jones. "If they need a rest in the outfield," Ford said. "I can give them a day off." Looking to build on his breakout 2004, Ford took his offseason preparation to the next level. Instead of remaining in his offseason home in Dallas with his wife and two young boys, he spent several weeks in Arizona at the Athletes Performance Institute - a high-tech fitness boot camp for professionals that also counts teammates Justin Morneau and Jason Bartlett as clients. Ford came to camp appearing fitter and believed he benefited from the extra work he put in. Although he got off to a slow start in the Grapefruit League exhibition schedule, he rallied down the stretch and batted .300 in 22 games. "I feel a lot stronger this year," Ford said. "I feel like I can hit the ball a lot harder. I'm not swinging as hard. I'm just excited about getting a chance to play a full season." Now Ford would like to take his career to the next level, too. Naturally, opposing pitchers have a different plan in mind. "He's going to have to make adjustments to the league," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The league is making adjustments to him." Because of his quick bat, Ford was a frequent pull hitter last season and feasted on inside pitches. Now that pitchers, and scouts, have seen him, he won't be a surprise any longer. Gardenhire would not detail the adjustments he wants Ford to make. "I don't want it to be in the papers," Gardenhire said. Through two games, Ford was 1-for-8 and was given a day off Wednesday to get Matthew LeCroy's bat into the lineup. "Lew has not swung great by any means," Gardenhire said. "He's hitting the ball. He just hasn't been on the ball as good as he was last year but it's early." In fact, it's very early. "I'm seeing the ball a lot better this year," Ford said. "I know my strike zone a lot better. It's just a matter of getting some more at-bats now and finding out what happens." Based on what happened last season, there's reason for optimism. "Lew is going to get his hits," Gardenhire said.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.