Ward a fine fit for Barnstormers
Daryle Ward was born to play baseball. He doesn't remember a time when he wasn't playing the game. When he was a kid, he carried a baseball bat with him everywhere.
"Every picture I see at my parents' house is me holding a bat, ever since I was 3 years old," he said.
Ward, who was in the majors for 11 seasons, is now 37 -- and still playing. This year, he's in Lancaster manning first base for the Barnstormers.
"He's a very, very good (defensive) first baseman," Lancaster manager Butch Hobson said. "He's always hit (well) and his veteran presence is good for the clubhouse."
That presence already is being noticed. Numerous players and Barnstormers staff members have said, "He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet," or other words to that effect about the perpetually smiling Ward.
Heredity is how Ward got his start in the the game.
"My dad played in the big leagues," he said, "so I believe ever since I was a child, I always knew I was going to play in the big leagues."
Gary Ward, Daryle's dad, played 12 season in the majors, from 1979 to 1990.
Sometimes having a dad who played in the majors can be a burden. Expectations can be too high for the son to excel. But Ward said he never felt any pressure.
"I was actually good, so it didn't really matter," he said.
"It wasn't like I was Gary Ward's son first and then they watched my play. It was my ability that brought attention to the fact that my father played in the big leagues."
Disappointed that he wasn't drafted out of high school, he went to play baseball at Santa Ana College, a junior college in California.
"I had a lot of things on my mind at a very young age. I had a daughter already. I was struggling, so I had actually quit.
"I love the game so much and I didn't know how I was going to take the fact that the coach was going to tell me I didn't make the team."
But he had, in fact, made the team.
Even though he had not played well, Santa Ana's coach, Don Sneddon, liked Ward's attitude.
According to Ward, Sneddon told him, "You didn't slam your helmet and you didn't bang anything around and you didn't bring the other guys on the team down. You just struggled like a man and you played defense well."
"So, he kept me around," Ward said. "I always have to thank him for that. He gave me another shot and it got me to the big leagues."
In 1994, Ward was drafted in the 15th round by the Detroit Tigers. After three seasons in the Tigers system, he was traded to Houston.
And in 1998, the Astros called him up to the majors. That was just a four-game stint, but after getting a taste of life in the majors, Ward wanted to go back.
The next season he stayed with Houston out of spring training.
"That team I came up with -- I couldn't have come up with a better group of guys," Ward said.
"We had (Jeff) Bagwell and (Craig) Biggio as the leaders of our team. We had Derek Bell, Mike Hampton, Moises Alou and Jose Lima. We had a great group of guys in that clubhouse.
"I just kind of watched how they went through their daily routine. And some of the stuff I learned from them, I still do today," Ward added.
That 1999 season started a span of 10 years in which Ward played 52 or more games in the majors.
In 948 games in the bigs, he batted .263, hit 90 homers and drove in 379 runs playing for the Astros, Dodgers, Pirates, Nationals, Braves and Cubs. His last season in the majors was 2008.
Asked about career highlights, he names two.
On July 6, 2002, he became the first player in a regular-season game to hit a ball out of Pittsburgh's PNC Park and into the Allegheny River on the fly. It was a grand slam off the Pirates' Kip Wells.
"He threw a changeup first pitch and it was kind of down and in right in, a lefty's spot," Ward said. "I hit it and it was a line drive. I knew I hit it well but I didn't think it was going to be high enough to clear the stands above the wall. It didn't clear by much."
Ward's other big moment was a playoff home run off Greg Maddux.
"I came up and the first pitch he throws a changeup and it was about stomach high," Ward said. "I just swung the bat. Finally, he threw something that was hittable up in the zone and I hit a home run off of Greg Maddux in the playoffs as a rookie."
Ward last played for a major league organization in 2011, when he played 28 games for Mobile, Arizona's Double-A affiliate.
Following that season, after he was released, he tested positive for a banned substance and was given a 50-game suspension.
"I'm not afraid to talk about it," he said. "It was Adderall. When I got picked up by the team, I told them about the situation. The thing was, I wasn't on the team at the time (I was taking it).
"I was having issues at home and I was having trouble focusing on the game. They didn't really ask for the prescription or anything like that. I was basically honest with them when I got signed.
"After the suspension, I met with the doctor and we sent letters to see if any of that could help my case. The appeal didn't work out. I'm not bothered by it. It was just one of those deals. That was their decision because they want to crack down on guys taking it just to take it.
"But it wasn't a deal where he was prescribing it to me for the rest of my career. It was just a short-time deal just to help me out to focus on the game because I had some off-field problems."
Having put that behind him, he's here now to help the Barnstormers.
"I am still enjoying the game and having the butterflies on opening day," he said. "I still feel like I have a lot of ability left. I know I don't have too many years left, but I know I can still play this game at a high level."
Butch Hobson and the Barnstormers agree with Ward's assessment.
Email Barnstormers beat writer Burt Wilson at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BurtWilson21