Latest Elk Citian Sports Updates
- Published on Saturday, 21 July 2012 14:23
With an abundance of talent, Leedey shortstop operating in a league all his own
Daily Elk Citian
On April 2 of this past spring, an Elk City High School baseball player smoked a ground ball to Leedey shortstop Drew Ward. It took a bad hop, crashed into the chest of the 16-year-old, 6-foot-4, 215-pound baseball prodigy, then ricocheted into the air like a ping-pong ball.
Few high school sophomores would have finished the play, but Ward was neither phased nor rattled. The “bat left, throw right” infielder gathered himself and barehanded the ball, then calmly gunned down the ECHS runner at first base. The isolated scene from Ward’s baseball career is only a glimpse of the kind of talent he exudes on a daily basis, but it also tells the whole story. It was another reminder that Ward — a third-team ESPN High School All-American as a sophomore and top-five prospect for the 2014 Major League Baseball draft — is far beyond his years in terms of maturity, baseball knowledge, skill, and fundamentals.
Joe Hayden is Ward’s summer league coach for the Midland Redskins in Cincinnati, Ohio, and helped shed some light on the topic.
The 83-year-old has coached the Connie Mack League team for the past 50 years, and witnessed 61 Major League Baseball players come through the organization, including Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin.
Every year, Hayden and his staff scout the nation’s best high school talent, and invite those they see fit to play in the organization, which has won 14 Connie Mack World Series titles. He said Ward’s defense and baseball smarts are often overlooked.
“I think his strengths are offensively, but his arm is about a four on a scout’s scale, from one to five,” Hayden said. “He’s a ‘palm-ball’ player. If he bobbles a grounder, he doesn’t throw it into the stands. He throws it just like he caught it cleanly, then follows through. After talking to him, he really knows the game. He studies it. He’s interested in it.”
ONCE A WARD...
Saying Ward’s family is sports-minded is like making an announcement that the sky is blue.
In 1964, his grandfather, Bob Ward, took over a dysfunctional American Legion Baseball program and turned it into what is now the Oklahoma Travelers organization. It’s a premier traveling baseball team that has produced hundreds of college baseball players, and four MLB prospects. Ward’s uncle, Mark, spent years coaching the team after Bob handed him the reins.
Drew’s father, Gregg, played baseball at the University of Oklahoma and Seminole College, then followed that with three years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Ward’s mother Susan ran track at OU, and both his sisters, Courtney and Paige, were all-state softball players at Leedey.
Like any parent watching their child take an at-bat, there is a always level of nervousness, and a number of stomach butterflies involved. But at Ward’s level, the at-bats seem to mean much more, which means the pressure can be immense, Gregg Ward said.
“Sometimes, I think me and Susan have more pressure than he does,” he said half-jokingly. “But that’s just the kind of kid he is. He handles pressure really well.”
During a summer when Ward played for the Oklahoma Travelers, he stepped to the plate against a team from Missouri. According to Gregg Ward, the pitcher was an 18-year-old University of Arkansas commit, but he would never attend one college class, because the hurler was picked in MLB draft’s seventh round.
Ward faced the future big leaguer head-on and hit a home run, helping lift the Travelers to a 2-1 victory.
The kicker? He was 14 years old at the time.
“We were going through the line,” Gregg Ward said, “and one of the coaches didn’t know I was Drew’s dad, but he said, ‘You better hide that 14-year-old kid, because the Midland Redskins are going to find him.’”
Of course, the Travelers could not hide their 14-year-old phenom, and Midland did find him. Subsequently, it’s a good bet the 18U National Baseball Team will accept him as one of their own in late August.
Such circumstances are just part of the circle of life for someone with the kind of talent Ward possesses.
So, it was quite natural that, within that circle, sprouted a working relationship with Oklahoma City physical therapist John Carey, who has earned a national reputation as an innovative practitioner of Manual Therapy and stretching with professional athletes.
Of the 15 or so so MLB clients he keeps are Luke Scott (Tampa Bay Rays), Matt Holliday (St. Louis Cardinals), and Scott Baker (Minnesota Twins). Ward admitted he has a strong dedication to Carey’s plan, which includes lifting weights, stretching, running, and a tailored, weight-gaining nutrition plan.
“When I’m home in the off-season, I go to him three to four times a week."
In taking almost 100 walks his freshman year at Leedey, Ward didn’t have much time to work on his swing. Not much changed in his sophomore season, especially after being hampered by strained ligaments in his ankle for part of the year.
This summer, while playing against some of the best players in the country at his age-level, he has not received the same treatment. The average fastball in high school tends to hover around 78 to 80 mph. Since June, Ward said he hasn’t seen anything under 86 mph, a welcome sight for the slugger who was admittedly gnashing his teeth to get ahold of a good fastball.
“It was frustrating at times,” Ward said of the intentional walks. “But I just try to keep my composure, I adjust to that stuff well. Over the summer, my swing has gotten a lot better, so has my bat speed. At the Team USA Trials, I didn’t see any pitches under 90 mph.”
For the complete feature on Drew Ward, pick up a copy of the Saturday, July 21 edition of the Daily Elk Citian.