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She has the dirt on the Angels

Erica Ford is an MVP when it comes to washing and mending the team's uniforms -- even if she sometimes yells, 'Don't slide!'

May 12, 2008|Kevin Baxter | Times Staff Writer

It's just past 3 a.m. on a chilly Wednesday morning when Erica Ford pulls her tidy 4-year-old SUV into a parking space behind the left-field wall at Angel Stadium.

A few hours earlier the stadium held more than 35,000 screaming fans. Now, but for a dozen workers hosing down the grandstands, it's quiet and empty as Ford makes her way deep inside the ballpark, a ritual repeated before dawn on the day after every Angels home game.

Welcome to the glamourless backstage of professional baseball, a sport that's watched by millions and played by millionaires. Hours after they clear out, Ford steps into a cramped, windowless storeroom off the Angels clubhouse to do laundry for the home team and needlework for both sides.

"She's kind of like an unsung hero," said Jeff Davenport, equipment manager for the Kansas City Royals, who like every team visiting Anaheim makes use of Ford's talents. "Because you've got to have that uniform."

Though Ford has been with the Angels longer than any player except outfielder Garret Anderson, few in the organization know her full name. Or much about what she does.

But after washing their dirty clothes for 11 years, she has learned plenty about them.

Outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, for example, destroys several jerseys each summer by nervously picking apart the piping on the bottom of his sleeves, a habit he's apparently teaching to infielder Maicer Izturis. Chone Figgins, Brandon Wood and Juan Rivera are not above sacrificing their bodies to make a play, evidenced by their dirt-caked uniforms.

And Manager Mike Scioscia is a superstitious sort whose game pants generally let Ford know the outcome from the most recent game.

"If they've won a couple of games in a row, his pants are inside out to keep the luck in," Ford said.

When the situation calls for it, she can make up a new jersey almost from scratch, as she did several times last month when the Angels promoted rookies from the minor leagues.

With those kinds of roster changes routine, virtually every professional team keeps someone like Ford either on the payroll or on 24-hour call for short-order stitchery.

"Good tailors, good repair people are worth their weight in gold," said Zack Minasian, longtime equipment manager for the Texas Rangers. "You have a good one, they take a lot of pressure off you. If you have a bad one, then it's tough."

Judging by appearances, Ford is among the best.

The Rangers have thought enough of her to hold off on uniform alterations until they arrived in Anaheim. The Yankees once picked her to sew special commemorative patches on their shirts, and another time the Seattle Mariners, mired in a losing streak, asked Ford to change their luck by changing the look of their jerseys. Overnight.

"She's just really good at what she does," said Ken Higdon, who has run the Angels clubhouse since 1994.

Still, the job is just a moonlighting gig for Ford, 59, a small, tireless woman with rust-colored hair who spends days working with severely handicapped children at Anaheim's Betsy Ross School, an elementary school named for the country's most famous seamstress.

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Ford, who made her husband's business suits and her four daughters' school clothes from scratch, landed her sewing job on the recommendation of friends who knew of her talent with a needle and thread.

"It was just one of those things," said Ford, who crochets, knits, quilts and paints in addition to sewing. "It was less than full time, and I thought it might be fun."

From her first early morning, when she put a new uniform together in a fraction of the time it took the team's old seamstress, it was clear she was a natural. That was 1997, when the team belonged to Disney, which also owned the NHL's then-Mighty Ducks. So Ford, who grew up a hockey fan in Detroit, agreed to do the Ducks' laundry too.

It was a short-lived experiment.

"I don't like hockey because it's very hard to get the stick marks out of the shirts. And all of their socks have to be mended by hand," she said.

But that's not the worst of it.

"They smell worse," Ford said, referring to the uniforms. "Hockey's awful."

Yet hockey remains her passion.

Ford says she'll also watch baseball as a fan, but her professional obligations can temper her rooting interest: "I'll sit there and yell, 'Don't slide!' "

The players don't listen, of course, which is why she finds a shopping cart and two huge laundry carts piled to overflowing with soiled uniforms when she unlocks the door to the chilly storeroom that is her office. Once the washers and dryers start running, the temperature soars to more than 90 degrees.

But this year especially, she said, there is something worse than the sauna-like heat: the stains. That's because the Angels changed the composition of their infield soil, which now includes a stubborn wax dye.

So Ford scrubs the uniforms, treats them with an oil eater she buys in bulk from Costco, then tosses them into one of three large commercial washing machines.

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