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Long road back for O's Ford

When the 2012 baseball season began back in April, Lew Ford's main goal was to win a championship with the Long Island Ducks, an independent team in the Atlantic League.

Now, four months later, Ford is playing left field for the Baltimore Orioles, and is on a major league roster for the first time since 2007.

"I really started this year, I'm thinking, I have some friends there on the team I played with in Long Island, and I'm going to try to win the championship there," Ford said before his Orioles debut Sunday. "I wanted to play one more year. I had a couple injuries last year and I didn't want to go out like that with injuries so I was going to come back and play again. If I got picked up, great."

Ford was a member of the Minnesota Twins from 2003-2007, hitting .271 in 494 career games, but was let go after the 2007 season. After that, Ford played in Japan, Mexico, and the Long Island independent team, and briefly for the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds.

"I love playing the game obviously and I was doing it because I loved it, not for the money or the fame or anything at that point in the independent league," Ford said. "I love the competition, the camaraderie with the guys. I love all that, everything about baseball. It kind of got me back to that by going to that independent league, got me back to why I'm playing."

On May 18, Ford was signed to a minor league contract by the Orioles and was assigned to Class-AAA Norfolk, and his journey back to the majors began.

In 62 games with the Norfolk Tides, Ford hit .331 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs, and hit an impressive .510 with runners in scoring position, prompting the Orioles to call him up to fill an empty spot on the bench.

"Things just worked out really good down there for whatever reason," Ford said. "The chance that this would happen is just so small, and I'm a very realistic person and I wasn't expecting it at all when I started out this year."

Ford said he thanked all of the people in the Orioles organization who stuck their neck out for him this year, including Tides manager Ron Johnson, Orioles Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

Duquette was the general manger of the Red Sox when they drafted Ford in the 12th round of the 1999 draft, and Johnson was in the Boston organization in 2000, before Ford was traded to the Twins.

"Those guys were with Boston when I was with them a long time ago and kind of knew me from there and gave me a chance to get back up here," Ford said. "I really appreciate that because it doesn't happen all the time. It's really tough to get back after being out so long. ... I'm sure Buck makes the final decision too."

Showalter said that he was impressed with what Ford accomplished in Norfolk this season, and felt that was a big reason why he was brought up to the Orioles this week.

"This guy, whatever you want to call it, humbled himself or whatever and went to the Atlantic League, got himself back on the map and carried it over in Norfolk," Showalter said. "If he had stayed there all year, he probably would've won the batting title there.

"I don't know what else Lew could do to get an opportunity. We felt like at some point he would get a chance here if he maintained what he was doing, and he did."

In his Orioles debut on Sunday, Ford went 0 for 4, but quickly had fans cheering for him and yelling "Lewwwww," after throwing out Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes trying to stretch a single into a double.

"I already feel right at home here," Ford said. "The fans were great and I had a lot of fun out there."

Ford went just 1 for 12 in his first three games with Baltimore, recording his first hit, a double, in a win over the Yankees on Tuesday. It was his first hit in 1,774 days.

However, Ford said making it back to the major leagues and getting another opportunity is what means the most to him.

"I think I'm going to enjoy this 100 times more than I did the first time," Ford said. "[I have] so many friends that have probably had more faith in me than I did that I was going to make it back. I appreciate all those people that kept that spirit in me to make it back."

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