Top-of-the-Line Softball Hurler at Hart Battles Pain With Therapy, Intensity : Ford Numbed by Injury to Pitching Arm

Times Staff Writer

Blowing away the opposition never seemed like much of a problem for pitcher Samantha Ford, Hart High's version of a hurricane. During the past three years, 66 of 77 opposing teams couldn't beat her, 48 couldn't score a run and 18 couldn't even get a hit.

Said Thousand Oaks Coach Greg Ropes after Ford pitched a no-hitter at his team earlier this season:

"Of the 21 outs we made in the game, 19 came on strikeouts and one other came on a popup to the catcher. I think she walked one batter, so there was only one person who hit the ball fair on her. . . . "

"She completely dominated us."

Ford says she could pitch a no-hitter almost without realizing it.

Until March 2.

That day, after two straight no-hitters to open the 1985 season, she faced Burroughs of Burbank in the Simi Valley Tournament. It was cold, and some of her fingers on her right hand began to numb.

By the end of the game, the numbness had spread to all five fingers.

Doctors diagnosed the problem as tendinitis of the wrist caused by a muscular imbalance in the arm. The same ailment kept her out of part of the 1983 season, when she pitched 141 innings, compared to 202 in 1982.

This time, however, the problem--a result of the way she flicks her wrist when pitching--appears to as tough on her emotionally as physically.

"It kills me," Ford said the other day. "I just hate it. It's so hard. Frustrating, I think, is the word."

At the earliest, she could rejoin the Indians for the Righetti Tournament during Easter vacation. Until then, her arm will have whirlpools, massages and icings seven days a week.

For Ford, who plans to be a pre-med major at UCLA in the fall, it is an experience she could do without.

"I want to win more than anything in the world, and I'm not getting any better just sitting here," she said.

Friends say Ford is goal-oriented--and the world championship in Fargo, N.D., in July is her next major target. She has been selected to pitch on the U.S. team.

They also say she is tough and determined--and hope she can draw on those virtues to build her arm back to full strength.

"A lot of kids would have quit," said Sharon Backus, coach of the UCLA softball team, which Ford expects to join next season.

"A lot of people would have given up. But Sam is not like that. She just doesn't let things like that get in her way.

"What separates her from the majority of high school pitchers is her intensity and the competitiveness within. Sam plain just does not like to lose, so when her pitches are off or her style is not working, she'll find some other way to beat you. That's unique."

Thirteen-year-old Samantha Ford was just another good softball player when the San Fernando Valley-based Tri-Valley Shilos worked their way through local and regional play to the American Softball Assn.'s national tournament in Lincoln, Neb., in 1980. On the team primarily as a pinch-runner, she stood by at the end as the top pitcher in her age group was given a special award.

Her life, in a Hollywood sort of way, would never be the same.

"When she saw them give that trophy out, according to her coach, she was so moved that she started to cry," said Dennis Ford, Samantha's father and the coach at Hart. "So she wanted one. By next year, goal-setter here wanted to be the best pitcher in the nation in her age division.

"Every pitch she threw in a workout from that point on had a purpose."

They still have a purpose.

Ford started to pitch again last weekend for the first time since the days her fingers went numb. She was only supposed to throw 10 pitches the first day, but went to 30.

She felt she had to. She was giving a pitching lesson to a little girl.

Ford, who is undefeated in national competition, has already earned recognition as the top pitcher in her age group. The notices came in 1983, in Boulder, Colo., when she won five consecutive games on the last day of the annual national softball tournament and her team won the title.

The American Softball Assn. had by then stopped giving trophies to athletes under 18, but Ford got something else.

Says her father: "A little 8- or 9-year-old girl came up to her and said, 'Hey, when I grow up I want to be just like you.'

"Samantha cried."

Through the years with Samantha Ford:

1982: As a 15-year-old freshman at Hart, she had to prove she wasn't on the team only because her father was the coach. She compiled a 22-7 record while establishing a variety of Southern Section records.

Her 20 strikeouts in a seven-inning game and three straight no-hitters (including two in one day) tied old marks. Her nine no-hitters and 16 shutouts established new ones.

She did more than surpass the strikeout record of 256: She she set a new standard with 373 in 202 innings.

She was named the Golden League's MVP, then pitched the San Fernando Valley Shilos to the national title, giving up three hits in 32 innings of American Softball Assn. tournament play, and finishing with an appearance on ABC's "That's Incredible."

That brought her considerable recognition and a lot of razzing.

"I was in the counselor's office crying every day," she said. "I would come home and then cry. And I would cry at the games because I would come off the field and the people in the stands would be yelling at me, 'Wow, that's incredible.' "

1983: She pitched no-hitters in her first two games before injuring her wrist. She missed four starts, all of which Hart lost, but still finished 16-3 with an 0.30 earned run average, 301 strikeouts, 56 walks and 19 total runs in 141 innings.

1984: Won-loss record: 26-1. Innings: 196. Shutouts: 16. Strikeouts: 340. Walks: 28. Hits: 46. Runs: 6. ERA: 0.00. Enough said.

1985: By her senior season, brilliance had become par for the course. And there was no letdown through the first three games as she pitched no-hitters against Thousand Oaks and Kennedy of Granada Hills before giving up one hit against Burroughs--a bunt single in the fourth inning.

"She was out, too," Dennis Ford said of Burroughs' Barbara Hofer. "The other coach said, 'Thank you.' "

Ford got her first official recruiting call at 9 a.m. the day after her junior year ended. By that time, she had already pared the list of possibilities to three: UCLA, Nebraska and Texas A&M.;

Cal State Fullerton, which she had considered back in 1982, was out of contention. The Titans aren't complaining too loudly.

"She's an outstanding pitcher, there's no question about that," said Fullerton softball Coach Judi Garman. "I think the question is if she has enough pitches to keep on top of the college hitters. Basically, she just throws a rise. . . . That's the question a number of other (college) coaches have, if she can develop a drop ball."

So Ford will have to prove again that she belongs.

One of the major reasons behind her decision to go to UCLA, she said, was to stay close to her father.

"He has a big investment in me," she said. "He's been coaching me and working with me two hours a day for about five years now. If I had gone to Nebraska or Texas A&M;, he never would have got to see me play.

"And as bad as I knew he wanted me to go to UCLA, he never said a thing."

The sky was gloomy and the rain fell lightly around Hart High School in Newhall. Ford sat in a corner table at a nearby sandwich shop and picked at her food, her mood matching the weather.

The Indians are 8-0 going into today's doubleheader at home against Kennedy and are getting along just fine without her.

Sophomore Cyndi Smith is 5-0 with two shutouts and has given up just two earned runs in 35 innings this season. The rest of the team has adjusted to getting balls hit at them every now and then.

Ford is making a few adjustments, too. Like learning to spend seven innings on the bench.

It hasn't been easy.

"She's driving me crazy at home," says Dennis Ford. "She still goes to the gym and works out, so she gets some sort of physical activity and some sort of release.

"A kid gets used to all that physical activity and then has to stop. That's tough."

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