Georgia State Player Leads Turks on Mound
By Matt Jones
Daily News Record
HARRISONBURG – Georgia State pitcher Garrett Ford took a step back in 2014. He’s doing everything he can to change that this summer with the Harrisonburg Turks.
The Loganville, GA., native is tied for the Valley baseball League lead with four wins and boats a skinny 1.75 earned run average, helping the surging Turks climb into second place behind Front Royal.
Without Ford – a 6-foot, 170 pound left-hander – Harrisonburg (16-7) probably would not be challenging for the VBL pennant, especially after the Turks sputtered to start the season.
“He’s been our man this year so far,” Harrisonburg manager Bob Wease said. “What else can I say about him? He’s been a great competitor.”
Ford, back in Harrisonburg for a second straight summer, was one of eight Turks named this week to the VBL All-Star team for Sunday night’s game at Veterans Memorial Park.
Ford’s strong summer comes after an up-and-down sophomore season at Georgia State. Two years ago, Ford led all Colonial Athletic Association freshmen in wins, going 4-4 and starting every weekend series for the Panthers – week series feature crucial conference games. He also was the CAA Rookie of the Week twice and ranked second on the team in innings pitched (74 1/2).
But with an influx of new talent at Georgia State, his role was downgraded in 2014. He posted a 1-1 record in 29 appearances, working mainly as a reliever as the Panthers moved to the Sun Belt Conference.
“We had some players added to our roster that had a little experience, and at the same times, matchups weren’t always the best,” Georgia State pitching coach Edwin Thompson said. “It depended on who was hot. At times he was hot and other times he didn’t have his best stuff.”
Because he threw just 35 1/2 innings this spring, Ford came to the Turks to log some innings. While many college pitchers are on a strict innings limit during the summer, Ford is trying to stretch back into a starter role.
“Toward the end of the spring, he had some really good outings and the goal for him was to go up to Harrisonburg and establish himself as a starter again and work on his pitches,” Thompson said.
Thompson, who helped the Turks win the 2000 VBL title as an outfielder from Webber International, started shipping players to Wease while he was an assistant coach at Duke. He has continued to do that at Georgia State, sending Ford, first baseman Matt Rose and catcher Joey Roach this summer.
“Bob is well-known for taking care of the players,” Thompson said. “He’s going to help them get better and I think some of that gets lost in summer baseball. (Wease) always took care of me, so I’m going to take care of him and send him some guys.”
Ford said he’s been working on developing his curveball this summer, which Thompson noted has always been a weakness for the lefty. Ford typically throws a lot of fastballs and change-ups, but only recently started mixing in more curveballs and cutters.
Obviously, the results have been positive. Ford has won his last four decisions, pitching into at least the seventh inning in each game. In his last two starts, Ford has not allowed an earned run.
“(My curveball) gets ground balls and it’s just another pitch for hitters to think about.” Ford said via cellphone from Pulaski, watching one of his Georgia State teammates play in a minor league game during an off-day for the Turks. “Throwing a fastball and changeup, my ball can only go one way, and now I have that curveball. …It’s just another mix that helps me get hitters out and get more ground balls and more strikeouts, too.”
His left arm, which Ford called “really fresh” going into this summer, has single-handedly kept the Turks in some games. Harrisonburg started the summer with a shortage of pitchers, only recently adding Virginia Tech’s Luke Scherzer and Illinois’ Ryan Castellanos, meaning Ford and the other pitchers needed to eat innings.
It has helped that Ford gets to work with his college catcher, Roach.
“He and I, we’re like best friends and everything,” Ford said. “We have a great relationship and when I can continue to throwing to him it’s just really helpful for the summer.”
Although Ford temporarily resides in Nationals territory, the lifelong Atlanta Braves fan isn’t shy about supporting his native team while in Harrisonburg.
“People always ask why I’m wearing (my Braves shirt) because we’re big rivals,” Ford said. “They’re always shocked to see Braves fans out.”
It won’t be a problem if he keeps winning.
NOTE: Third baseman Brandon Gold (Georgia Tech), outfielder Eric Kalbfleisch (UNC-Greensboro), pitcher Kevin Lewallyn (Duke), catcher Joey Roach (Georgia State), first baseman Matt Rose (Georgia State), second baseman Thomas Smith (Georgia Tech) and outfielder Thomas Spitz (Wingate) were the other Turks to make the All-Star team.