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Marauders’ Ford Developing Pitchers for Pirates’ Future


Bradenton Marauders’ pitching coach, Matt Ford, knows how to develop big leaguers.

For many baseball players signed to their first professional contract, being ticketed for the Florida State League could be life-changing. According to Ford, when part of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization and assigned to Bradenton, it is critical for players to build a foundation that they will stick with throughout their careers.

“A lot of data is collected. We (Pirates) can come up with an identity; a plan for pitchers to follow.  They learn what their strengths are,” said Ford during a recent telephone conversation.

From being a Marauder to those hurling on the MLB level, pitchers must throw strikes. The overall objective of a pitcher's ultimate success or failure couldn’t be more simplified.  Ford reinforces the point that it’s hard for a pitcher to move on without getting the ball over the white of home plate.

“The 1-1 count is important,” Ford, who resides in the Coral Springs area in baseball’s off-season, explains. “Pitchers learn that throwing strikes controls the count.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve never forgotten how hard this game is.”

The pitchers under Ford’s watchful eye know it’s okay to fail if they learn from the situations they face on the mound. Trust is vital to achieving trust between the pitching coach and those assigned to him. 

With just over 60 regular season games left on the Marauders’ schedule, there is plenty of time for those on the roster to improve, dazzle, and reinvent their skills.   There have been 23 pitchers in Marauder colors so far in 2024.  Competition is always knocking on a player’s proverbial door.

Ford is a perfect pick to educate the young arms at LECOM Park.  As the saying goes, he’s done it all. Win, lose, get drafted, released, traded, advanced to the MLB level, Ford has the answers to his pitchers’ questions.  This is when the trust factor between coach and player is cemented.

Now in his 11th season in the Pirates’ organization in educating minor leaguers, Ford’s baseball book begins with him being a third-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1999 MLB amateur draft. Ford's baseball journey was extensive after joining the Milwaukee Brewers for the 2003 season, in what would be his lone time spent on the MLB level.

Stops on the Class-A, Double-A, and Triple-A levels were also on tap.  Seasons were playing independent ball, and in Venezuela, Ford was refining his talents in spinning balls, all with the hope of getting another taste in the big leagues.  Ultimately, a sprained elbow and bone spur surgery on that same elbow forced Ford to stare reality into its face.

“Once I realized that I couldn’t compete at the highest level, I knew it was time,” says Ford of giving into retirement as a player and exploring coaching.  “I wasn’t the best health-wise, and I was up there in baseball age.”

Ironically, Ford’s final big-league appearance came for the Brewers in a game against the Pirates in Pittsburgh at PNC Park. After transitioning from pitcher to coach, Ford found himself enjoying offering private lessons to kids.

“All I knew was professional baseball. I went to see Rick Rombielak at the University of Akron for an interview. When I was hired by Rick, I was doing both scouting and  was the team’s pitching coach.”
One of the first kids Ford signed to play for Rombielak’s team was JT Brubaker. Pitching at the NCAA DI level in the MAC, Brubaker, a right-handed pitcher, would see his playing career extended beyond the collegiate level. In 2015, Brubaker would be the Pirates’ 6th-round draft pick.  He is currently with the New York Yankees organization.

Relationship building between coach and player is vital for both to succeed.  Ford looks back to a day when he was coaching Pittsburgh’s minor league affiliate in Charleston, West Virginia during the 2016 season – the West Virginia Power.  He can remember clearly a moment when teacher and student clicked on the same level.

“Mitch Keller was having a bullpen session before a game we had in Hagerstown, Maryland.  We had a conversation. Mitch understood what he needed to do, and after that day he “got it”, and has never looked back.”

Listening to Ford explain his approach to coaching, it's clear that he cares for his players beyond the playing field. He believes that as a leader, he must care for the whole pitcher. Mental skills are important when a player is struggling and winning games.

Ford looks back to coaches he had who left their print on him.  In high school, it was coach Mike Moss in Broward County.  While with the Brewers, Mike Maddux, the older brother of Baseball Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, shaped Ford’s life.  Hector Berrios was Ford's mentor while playing in the minors for the Blue Jays’ organization.  These are the people, pieces of each, who Ford wants to be for the pitchers he is developing.

Bradenton has become a familiar place for Ford to spend his baseball seasons in.  This is his second straight season as the Marauders’ pitching coach.  For the 2022 season, Ford handled the pitchers at Pirate City where Pittsburgh’s Florida Complex League team call home.

He is extremely loyal to the Pirates for the opportunities they have presented to him in his post-playing career. Ford continues to repay the stability offered by shaping young men into the best athletes and people they can be for what is ahead of them beyond Bradenton.


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