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An unlikely source of talent for the Yankees

The Yankees have two Princeton Alumni on their opening day roster.

Kansas City Royals vs New York Yankees Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Select universities around the country are known for producing future major leaguers on a yearly basis. Princeton University is not one of these schools. This season, however, the Yankees boasted two alumni, David Hale and Mike Ford, from the Ivy League school on their opening day roster.

Princeton’s long time coach Scott Bradley is a former Yankee, and despite playing just 28 games as a Yankee is in the regular rotation for Old-Timers day. As a coach at Princeton, he has won seven Ivy League titles and over 400 games in 22 seasons. His work and the current Princeton roster is likely well known to the Yankees coaching staff, as it sports Aaron Boone’s nephew Jake as their starting shortstop.

Bradley’s professional career began when he was drafted by the Yankees in the third round of the 1981 draft. While in college he was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year starring for the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill).

Taking advantage the opportunities afforded to him, Bradley asked legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith if he could attend basketball practice as an observer. He crafted his future coaching philosophies by taking notes on everything Smith did, later saying “Dean Smith had this amazing way of making everybody feel good about themselves and that their role was important.”

He rose quickly through the minors, making his major league debut as a September call-up in 1984. Bradley was part of the Yankees opening day roster in 1985, but never earned a regular major league spot and playing time with the franchise. He was traded to the White Sox before the 1986 season. Bradley played nine seasons in the majors and caught Randy Johnson’s first career no-hitter as a member of the Mariners.

Once established as a college coach, he was able to convince Georgia native David Hale to join his program. While in college, Hale split time on the mound and playing center field. Despite never putting up an ERA under 4.00, scouts saw a player with impressive raw stuff that could reach 97 mph. The Atlanta Braves selected Hale in the third round of the 2009 draft.

Hale reached the major leagues in 2013, and found success working as both a starter and reliever over the next few season for the Braves. Following a trade to the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2015 season, Hale’s baseball career turned into an odyssey as he sought a steady landing spot. He spent time bouncing around the Dodgers, Yankees and Twins organizations. He finished the 2018 season in Korea after being designated for assignment multiple times that season.

As a Yankee, Hale has produced a 2.98 ERA in 48.1 innings at the major league level. He has provided a flexible option out of the bullpen who can go multiple innings and keeps runs off the board. The expanded rosters to start the 2020 season will give him a chance to lock down a long-term role in a crowded Yankees bullpen.

Like David Hale before him, Mike Ford excelled on both sides of the ball while attending Princeton. Coach Bradley had seen Ford compete against his son growing up in New Jersey and loved his ability. The promise of being able to play on both sides of the ball lured Ford away from more established baseball schools like Stanford University and the University of Miami.

Named both the Ivy League pitcher and hitter of the year in 2013, Ford was still passed over in the MLB draft that June. Disappointed with the lack of attention from major league teams, Ford went to the Cape Cod summer league and proceeded to hit .407 with five home runs in 26 games against some of the best college talent in the country. By the time Ford left the Cape, he had offers from multiple majors league teams as an undrafted free agent.

Working through the Yankees system, Ford displayed the excellent plate discipline and left-handed power that has become his trademark. Selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Rule-5 draft prior to the 2018 season, Ford made a strong push late in spring training but was ultimately returned to the Yankees.

When injuries pummeled the 2019 Yankees, Mike Ford was ready to step in and produce. After leading the Triple-A International League in OPS for qualified hitters at the time of his last call-up in early August, Ford showed that he was more than a minor league hitter by posting a .953 OPS for the remainder of the season. Bradley sees something that he has seen for years now saying “He’s got that aura; he’s got that swagger... The way he puts his helmet on, the way he stands at the plate. It was the same thing when he was 13-years-old.”

No matter what Ford and Hale accomplish on the field, Princeton University will always be known for its academics ahead of their sports. Both Hale and Ford finished their baseball-related senior theses after being drafted. Hale examined pitching statistics which may be used an an indicator of arm injuries. The Yankees’ encouraged Ford to finish his thesis on the rise of baseball in the Dominican Republic. After signing, Ford said the Yankees “gave me free access to anyone for interviews down in the Dominican Republic complex.”

Princeton University has carved out a successful program inside of the Ivy League. Led by former Yankee Scott Bradley, the program has seen multiple alumni end up with the New York Yankees. While not the stars of the team, players like Mike Ford and David Hale have proved capable at the major league level after taking an uncommon route to the bigs.