The Legend of Dan Ward

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Remember kid, there’s heroes and there’s legends. Heroes get remembered but legends never die.  Follow your heart, kid, and you’ll never go wrong.”

That is a quote from the 1993 Classic The Sandlot.  Its “The Babe,” or Babe Ruth, the former Red Sox and Yankee great speaking to one of the characters about his future.  Maybe Daniel Wardwas too young to have seen the movie when it first aired, or maybe he did see it and didn’t really understand it.

Ward was built to play baseball.  The above quote would have probably done nothing for a young Ward, but now looking back at his life thus far, it seems quite fitting.

At 6’4″ and 230 lbs. of muscle, the man looks like a hero from Greek mythology.  Like all myths, his story is filled with tales of heroism and sacrifice, highs and lows, hard times and good times.

He can hit a baseball 400 feet and throw one 95 mph.  Out of high school he was a highly sought after commodity for the Big leagues.  His future in baseball was all but assured, even when he skipped the draft to play Division I baseball in college.

Then he took time out to care for his family while also taking care of the elderly of Cleveland through a city-run program–delivering meals to people in need and taking them where they needed to go.  He was seemingly throwing away a free education and a spot in Major League baseball for these people because they needed him.

These feats sound embellished to impress others, but they are real.

A highly sought after major league recruit out of Garfield Heights High School in Garfield Heights, Ohio, Ward decided that the draft didn’t fit what he wanted to do.  In high school he earned MVP honors his sophomore, junior and senior year.

“Getting drafted was good; it gave me some maturity, but apparently not enough,” said Ward.  “It just wasn’t enough money and wasn’t the right time.”

Ward was drafted in the 47th round by the Texas Rangers and was probably destined for Single A ball, where the starting salary is only $800-1,000 a month.  Being an all-star in high school, Ward had developed some problems with his character.  Being awarded team MVP his junior and senior year, making the All-State Team for Ohio, he was a player who was lauded for being one of the best his entire career.

So being drafted 47th wasn’t something Ward was planning on.  Talent wise, the Ohio slugger was an excellent prospect, but through his actions in high school the MLB scouting report listed him as having some serious maturity issues.

“The word from the scouts on me in high school was that I had no character, some big flaws when it came to me personally,” said Ward of his draft.

The Ohio slugger wasn’t done with baseball yet though, Ward was offered a scholarship to Ohio University where he started 47 of 50 games as a freshman, batted fourth and led the team in home runs and RBIs and was top-five on the team in every other category.

Inexplicably, he left the university after one season.  In Wards own words, “Then I made a couple bad decisions, including a rash one in a time of desperation.”

His plan was to try and play for a smaller school while helping his family, who was dealing with addiction problems.  Perhaps through the naivety of youth, Ward thought the best way to help his family was to leave college and help pay bills.  Juggling family, work and baseball soon was too much for the young man and baseball fell by the wayside.

“My sister got into some serious trouble and I thought if I could make some money, pay some bills, I could get my family out of that,” said Ward.  They lived near “Heroin Heights,” and he feared she might find herself in trouble sooner than later.  So the former baseball star took a full-time job driving a bus for the elderly of Cleveland, giving the money to his ailing family and trying to keep his sister on the straight and narrow.

The next three years were a growing period for Ward.  One of the major “flaws” seen by scouts was that he lacked character and was immature.

He said his time working with the elderly helped him as a person.  “You kind of have to mature when you hang out with 89-year-old people every day.”

Then, Ward left Cleveland.  His love for baseball and restless spirit compelled him to move on.  He had told his parents six months before that it was getting time to move on.

His sister had come through her troubles, and had a good and steady boyfriend who took care of her and her child.  Ward felt he had fulfilled his duty to her and it was safe for him to leave.

That’s when Ward made the trip from Ohio to Arizona, planning on staying on a friend’s couch while he tried to find a team or school that wanted him for baseball.  Then a connection from the past looked Ward up and gave the Cleveland slugger another chance.

Several years prior in the All-Ohio game, an all-state game for the top high school players in Ohio, Ward was approached by an older man asking him about his future and how he felt about baseball in Florida.  Ward’s Ohio University coach quickly caught wind of the recruitment and made it clear he had staked claim to the all-star player and his future laid with the Bobcats.

That older gentleman was none other than current ENMU assistant coach Brett Merritt‘s father.  Merritt, from the Cleveland area, was coaching in Florida at the time and his dad had let him know about Ward.  While the recruitment didn’t work out at the time, Ward obviously had made such an impression on Merritt that he always kept him in mind.

When Merritt had heard that Ward was no longer playing, he checked in with him in the summer of 2014.  He had always tried to keep in touch, but wasn’t sure what the young man was going through now.

After Merritt and Greyhound head coach David Gomez contacted Ward, he enrolled at Clovis Community College to work on his eligibility for the fall.

The rest is history.

When asked about Ward, Merritt said, “I didn’t know him personally in high school, but everyone I talked to about him said ‘Oh you’re getting Dan Ward?  Good luck with that.’

“He has done everything we’ve asked of him, has found his natural leadership ability and has grown into a good guy.”

Ward said his plans for the future include “Getting a degree. That’s my main focus.  If I get drafted I may go, but the only thing I can control that’s set in stone is getting my degree.”

The young man has come a long way from what some scouts said was his biggest fault of having no character.  While it is unfortunate that he has had to struggle so much to get to this point, even Ward admits he is in a good place.  “I feel very comfortable.  I am at ease right now for the first time in a long time.  Right now, I’m not thinking about the future and the majors, and I’m ok with that.  Back in high school, that wasn’t the case.”

Ward recalled when he was 16 a neighbor would let him and his friends borrow an old beat-up car that just sat in the driveway.  At the time they would make fun of the bright yellow plates of the car, with its garish red lettering standing out.

Those were New Mexico plates on the car and Ward says, looking back, “I think it was a subtle hint from the powers that be.”

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