For much of his professional baseball career, Duane Ward was schooling opposing batters as the Toronto Blue Jays’ middle reliever. The hard-throwing right hander and closer Tom Henke made up the team’s nearly unhittable one-two punch in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
This week, Ward was offering instruction of a different type as one of several Blue Jays alumni who are part of the Blue Jays Honda Super Camp that rolled into St. Pat’s Ball Park in St. John’s for a three-day session which ended Wednesday.
“I love teaching and I love watching these kids’ eyes light up when they finally get it,” says the two-time World Series winner.
“I hate seeing kids waste talent.”
Other members of the Blue Jays alumni offering instruction at St. Pat’s were Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar, outfielder Jesse Barfield,and Otto Vélez, one of the first Blue Jays to ever don the team’s old powder blue uniforms in their 1977 expansion year.
Sandy Alomar Sr., Roberto’s father, and former Jays’ prospect Nigel Wilson from Oshawa, Ont., also took part.
After hitting locations in Canada’s nine other provinces last year, the camp made its way to St. John’s for the first time. Ward and the other instructors were greeted by over 140 kids. To put that in perspective, a one-day camp in Charlottetown attracted 180 kids, while Halifax and Moncton drew 110 for their respective three-day events.
Ward says while the calibre and talent level of ball players is different from city to city and from one age-group to the next, the program is tailored to help all ball players improve their game.
“At some places, you’ve got some real diehards and sometimes you get some kids that love the game and just want to play for the fun of it,” said the New Mexico native who lives in Las Vegas.
“We try to get them all to do similar things, teach the same and hopefully they’ll go apply it. That’s all we ask of these kids.”
Wherever the camp goes, Ward says being an ambassador for baseball — more specifically for Canadian baseball — is a rewarding experience.
“Here in Canada, the Toronto Blue Jays play for a country and believe me, we felt that pressure in 1992 and 1993 when people all across this country wanted us to win (the World Series),” says Ward, who took over from Henke as the Toronto closer in 1993 and promptly set the Jays' single-season record for saves with 45.
“It wasn’t just that city of Toronto. For us, to be ambassadors of grass roots Canadian baseball by being part of this great organization is a career prolonged.
“I love it.”
Ward feels the Jays’ pain
The Toronto Blue Jays haven’t been just bitten by the injury bug, the team is infected with it.
The Jays are still without starting pitchers Kyle Drabek, Brandon Morrow and Drew Hutchison, slugger Jose Bautista, cather J.P. Arencibia, third-baseman Brett Lawrie. Centrefielder Colby Rasmus and second baseman Kelly Johnson only came off the disabled list Wednesday.
“It’s a virus and somehow the Blue Jays got it,” says former Toronto pitcher Duane Ward.
“We had some injuries back when I was playing with the Jays, but nothing like this. To have your
whole team decimated by injuries is unbelievable.”
Still, Ward credits the remaining players — most notably the bullpen — with picking up the slack and keeping the team within striking distance of a wild card spot.
“Somebody could go on a losing streak and all of a sudden the Blue Jays could get hot with their young kids. That’s just the game of baseball. You can never count a team out until they’re mathematically eliminated,” he said.
“I’m impressed with the character and resilience the team has shown.”