It's just past 3 a.m. on a chilly Wednesday morning when Erica Ford pulls her tidy 4-year-old SUV into a parking space behind the left-field wall at Angel Stadium.
A few hours earlier the stadium held more than 35,000 screaming fans. Now, but for a dozen workers hosing down the grandstands, it's quiet and empty as Ford makes her way deep inside the ballpark, a ritual repeated before dawn on the day after every Angels home game.
"She's kind of like an unsung hero," said Jeff Davenport, equipment manager for the Kansas City Royals, who like every team visiting Anaheim makes use of Ford's talents. "Because you've got to have that uniform."
Though Ford has been with the Angels longer than any player except outfielder Garret Anderson, few in the organization know her full name. Or much about what she does.
But after washing their dirty clothes for 11 years, she has learned plenty about them.
Outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, for example, destroys several jerseys each summer by nervously picking apart the piping on the bottom of his sleeves, a habit he's apparently teaching to infielder Maicer Izturis. Chone Figgins, Brandon Wood and Juan Rivera are not above sacrificing their bodies to make a play, evidenced by their dirt-caked uniforms.
And Manager Mike Scioscia is a superstitious sort whose game pants generally let Ford know the outcome from the most recent game.
"If they've won a couple of games in a row, his pants are inside out to keep the luck in," Ford said.
When the situation calls for it, she can make up a new jersey almost from scratch, as she did several times last month when the Angels promoted rookies from the minor leagues.
With those kinds of roster changes routine, virtually every professional team keeps someone like Ford either on the payroll or on 24-hour call for short-order stitchery.
"Good tailors, good repair people are worth their weight in gold," said Zack Minasian, longtime equipment manager for the Texas Rangers. "You have a good one, they take a lot of pressure off you. If you have a bad one, then it's tough."
Judging by appearances, Ford is among the best.
The Rangers have thought enough of her to hold off on uniform alterations until they arrived in Anaheim. The Yankees once picked her to sew special commemorative patches on their shirts, and another time the Seattle Mariners, mired in a losing streak, asked Ford to change their luck by changing the look of their jerseys. Overnight.
"She's just really good at what she does," said Ken Higdon, who has run the Angels clubhouse since 1994.
Still, the job is just a moonlighting gig for Ford, 59, a small, tireless woman with rust-colored hair who spends days working with severely handicapped children at Anaheim's Betsy Ross School, an elementary school named for the country's most famous seamstress.
Ford, who made her husband's business suits and her four daughters' school clothes from scratch, landed her sewing job on the recommendation of friends who knew of her talent with a needle and thread.
"It was just one of those things," said Ford, who crochets, knits, quilts and paints in addition to sewing. "It was less than full time, and I thought it might be fun."
From her first early morning, when she put a new uniform together in a fraction of the time it took the team's old seamstress, it was clear she was a natural. That was 1997, when the team belonged to Disney, which also owned the NHL's then-Mighty Ducks. So Ford, who grew up a hockey fan in Detroit, agreed to do the Ducks' laundry too.
She knows all the dirt on the Angels
Erica Ford washes and repairs their uniforms, along with those of other teams. But she's not cleaning up when it comes to salary.
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