Yoga Practice in Manahawkin a Home Run for New York Yankees’ Mike Ford

By Juliet Kaszas-Hoch | Jan 08, 2020
Supplied Photo

Stafford Township — Baseball is a game of inches and increments, stats and percentages, small adjustments for large gains. The odds of a high school or college athlete getting drafted by a Major League Baseball team are rather low. Less than one in five draft picks, then, actually makes it to the majors. Once there, players stand in the spotlight as they swing, sprint and catch, always considering – in the dugout, between games, in the off-season – how to become stronger, faster and more robust. How to stay in the game; how to win games.

Mike Ford grew up imagining a career in the big leagues, ideally for the New York Yankees. Raised in Montgomery Township, with summers spent on Long Beach Island, he was drafted out of Princeton University by that very team.

“It was my childhood dream, in the backyard, and it came true,” Ford, 27, said last month, as he cooled down after a class at Hot or Not Yoga in Manahawkin.

Ford first tried yoga in 2017, seeking a way to change up his fitness routine, and to garner efficiency in movement – what he sees as the key correlation, for him, between yoga and baseball.

“Yoga was something I really wanted to explore,” Ford explained. “I wanted to change how I work out in the off-season.” He scaled down on lifting and began to concentrate more on cardio and on yoga, which promotes strength, flexibility and balance, with a focus on the breath, and a centering, a calming, of the psyche.

As Ford noted, the benefits are for both “body and mind, and, when I do yoga a lot, it really helps my breathing.

“I feel like I can do more with my body,” he added. “My hips feel looser. ... Everything is rotational in baseball.” The batter’s box is Ford’s “comfort zone” – he doesn’t get rattled, as he’s “been very fortunate to learn how to block everything out when batting.” Even so, he said, “If I can do something for my body so I can get a little bit of an edge, I want that advantage. You’re facing a guy that throws 98 mph, you have to be efficient in your movement.”

As he altered his training over the past few years, including ramping up his yoga practice, Ford saw a difference in his body and his performance. “My numbers spoke for themselves,” he remarked.

“The season started slow, but picked up, and by the end I was contributing,” he said of his move to MLB’s main stage. “It was exactly what I wanted for so long.”

At Princeton, where he played first base and pitched, Ford made Ivy League history by earning both Player and Pitcher of the Year awards in 2013. “We’ve had a lot of great players come through Princeton, but to have somebody who had this type of year on the mound and as a position player is really is unprecedented,” Tigers head coach Scott Bradley said at the time.

Ford has been almost solely with the Yankees since he was drafted out of college, minus a stint with the Seattle Mariners in 2017, when the team selected him in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. He returned to New York not long after, playing then with the Trenton Thunder and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. In 2018, with Scranton, he batted .253/.327/.433, with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in 102 games. In total, he held a .269 average, with 71 home runs and 328 RBIs, in 561 minor league contests.

Last year, the Yankees invited Ford to spring training as a non-roster player. He was assigned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start the season, but was promoted to the pinstripes when first baseman Greg Bird was injured. Ford made his major league debut on April 18. Less than a week later, he hit his first MLB homerun. He made his pitching debut Aug. 15. And on Sept. 1, he slammed his first career walk-off, a solo homer to overcome the Oakland Athletics.

The Yankees continued on into the playoffs, ending their run in late October. With the season over, Ford headed to LBI. His parents recently sold their house up north, and moved full-time to their home in High Bar Harbor.

He asked around for a studio that offers hot yoga classes – “I’m so inflexible to begin with, so I like the heat,” he stated – and was pointed in the direction of Hot or Not Yoga. “It’s a great collection of people who are always willing to help,” he noted. “It was my hour and a half oasis for the day. ... I never thought I would find a place like this here.”

“He wasn’t very flexible in his hamstrings when he started a couple months ago, but he has very good body awareness, and he listens to cues really well,” said Rose Dease, a teacher at Hot or Not. “He has great high bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.”

Ford took to the hot sessions, and to the “Happy Hips and Hamstrings” class Dease teaches on Saturday mornings. The Hot or Not staff, in turn, took to Ford, who is warm, open and modest.

One of his favorite poses is pyramid, or forward-facing triangle, because “it’s good for the hamstrings,” said the MLBer, who used to have issues with those muscles and tendons.

Dease and Colleen Yerves, another teacher at the studio, said malasana, or prayer squat, is a good pose for him (and for anyone and everyone) to practice regularly as he prepares for another baseball season.

Yerves, a longtime swimmer, also chatted with Ford about the importance of cross-training. “When you come to a practice like yoga you become more well rounded,” she remarked.

Ford agreed, and said he wants to continue yoga through the season, which runs 162 games and 186 days. He’s talked to Yankees strength coach Matt Krause about his training, and is hoping the club will bring someone in two or three days a week to offer yoga.

“Once you get to that level, it’s assumed you know what your body needs,” so each player more or less designs his own workouts, he noted.

Ford is currently in Tampa, ahead of spring training. He’s at the complex in the morning, “to do my baseball stuff,” and aims to fit in cycling or yoga each day as well.

“I realized I get different things from each,” he stated. “Yoga balances me out.”

Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

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