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Representing Charlottesville, Henry Ford is built tough

The towering freshman infielder is already breaking out as the next Virginia baseball superstar

<p>Ford is proving to be one of the best freshmen in the country.&nbsp;</p>

Ford is proving to be one of the best freshmen in the country. 

Some of the best athletes to play for the University are homegrown talents from Charlottesville. Graduate attackman Connor Shellenberger of men’s lacrosse and freshman guard Kymora Johnson of women’s basketball instantly come to mind as leaders of their respective programs. Completing a trifecta of local legends, enter Henry Ford — who has been playing baseball in Charlottesville for over a decade.

“Henry Ford is the little league legend around Charlottesville,” Coach Brian O’Connor said. “He’s kind of like the movie ‘Sandlot.’” 

Standing at a towering 6-foot-5 and 220 lbs., Ford fits the mold of an ultra-strong first baseman. However, his origins are diverse. His father, Ryan Ford, was a standout pitcher for William and Mary and his uncle, Kevin Ford, played four years for Virginia at third base. Coming out of high school, Henry Ford was listed as a shortstop — ranked as fourth-best in the Commonwealth by Perfect Game. Regardless of positional fits though, Virginia was always the dream destination for Ford — he has been committed to the Cavaliers since the eighth grade. 

"I've been going to [Virginia] games since I was two months old," Ford said. "I wanted to go [here] since forever. I mean it is pretty incredible to be honest. Dream come true."

Ford spent his first two years of high school baseball playing at St. Anne’s-Belfield, which also happens to be Johnson’s alma mater. Then, he transferred to the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn. playing with another future Cavalier star, sophomore infielder Henry Godbout. Ford hit .431 across two seasons with the Baylor School and was named a First Team All-American during his senior season. 

After high school and before suiting up for the Cavaliers, Ford returned home to play for the Charlottesville Tom Sox — a Valley League summer team — alongside graduate catcher Jacob Ference and sophomore utility player Aidan Teel. Ford’s .316 batting average led the Tom Sox, highlighting his readiness for the collegiate level. 

Across all Perfect Game prospects, Ford ranks in the 96th percentile for exit velocity — highlighting elite power at the plate. That power has been on display so far, as his mark of six home runs leads the Cavaliers. His statline of 24 runs batted is a close second behind sophomore outfielder Harrison Didawick. Ford also has a perfect fielding percentage so far.

Ford’s stellar resume, both in high school and college, was not going to guarantee a starting role. Ford can play first base or designated hitter, but junior utility player Ethan Anderson was already a mainstay at first base. Anderson also offers quality play at catcher or designated hitter, so he and Ford have coexisted — splitting time between first base and designated hitter. With multiple options for first basemen, Ford had to prove his value to earn a spot in the lineup. Not only has he done just that, but — 17 games into the season — Ford has proven to be one of Virginia’s best players both in the field and at the plate. 

In a grimy contest against Wichita State Feb. 23, the Cavaliers trailed throughout the entire game but managed to fight into extra innings in the midst of over three hours of rain delay. The hard work paid off and, in the bottom of the 10th, Ford smacked a double off of the centerfield wall for a walkoff victory. 

After two of the greatest players in school history, junior infielders Jake Gelof and Kyle Teel, were selected in the 2023 MLB Draft, Virginia’s significant offensive production was suddenly missing. The Cavaliers have sorely needed a star to step up and replace lost production. Ford was considered a candidate to fill this niche, and his play thus far has been nothing short of extraordinary. 

Among hitters to start every game so far, Ford leads the team in hits and is second in slugging percentage as well as third in on-base percentage. He has primarily hit fourth — the cleanup spot, responsible for driving in runners from the top of the batting order — and is the fourth freshman to ever receive that designation under O’Connor, who has been observing Ford’s talents since the early days of little league baseball.

“The first interaction I had with [Coach] Oak was I played his son and I hit three home runs in one game and then the next day he pulled up in his car next to me and was like ‘Hey take it easy on him today’ and I was so excited,” Ford said. 

As for the present, Ford is firmly in contention for a spot on the Freshman All-American team. Considering he is already a key contributor in his first season, he may go on to finish his career in the same tier as Gelof and Teel. Fans of Virginia baseball should be sure to look for the key freshman infielder to lead the Cavaliers back to the College World Series in June, proudly representing his hometown team.

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