Duane Ward doesn’t like looking back too much.
A set-up man with the Toronto Blue Jays for most of his decade-long major league baseball career, the 48-year-old two-time World Series champion would rather look to the future.
On Saturday, on a sunny Thunder Bay afternoon, Ward was the headliner at a youth baseball clinic, sponsored by the Jays that brought dozens of ballplayers to Port Arthur Stadium to learn the fundamentals of the game from one of its best.
Ward, who formed a wicked and often unhittable one-two punch with Tom Henke for most of his days with the Jays, before taking over the closer’s role and setting a club record with 45 saves in 1993, said Canada has nothing to worry about on the baseball front.
“I think it’s seeing the next generation of baseball in Canada,” Ward said. “Because across Canada I have seen some absolutely incredible, incredible talent and I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
Saturday’s instructional clinic was all about spreading as much baseball knowledge as he could in as many areas as the game as possible.
The kids soaked it up, he said.
“I think we have about 34 of them this year and this is just one of the stops along the way,” said Ward, a New Mexico native who now calls Las Vegas home.
“It’s basically just blasting the kids for about 4.5 hours, giving them the skills of hitting, pitching, fielding, swinging a bat, base-running – as much information to these kids as we can during the 4.5-hour period.”
That’s pretty much Ward’s life today, 17 years after throwing his final pitch for the Jays, an injury-plagued 1995 end to a ball career that saw him finish with a 32-37 career mark with 121 saves, all but 10 of his 462 appearances in a Jays uniform.
Ward said he was one of the driving force behind convincing the Blue Jays to hold baseball camps across the country, and idea they jumped on right away.
“It’s been 100 per cent pedal to the metal and then I’ve been basically introducing all the alumni players we have coming back to the baseball camps. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do and trying to get going here.
“And we wouldn’t be able to go if it wasn’t for the Blue Jays organization and all my other alumni friends.”
It says a lot about the organization, Ward admitted.
First drafted by the Atlanta Braves, another model franchise – and one he earned a pair of wins against in the 1992 World Series to help the Jays launch their back-to-back championship run – Ward said being with the Jays is like being with family.
“This is the penthouse of organizations. It’s more than that. It’s the way they treat their players, the way they welcome a player into their organization with open arms,” Ward said. “They genuinely care.”
Ward is proud of his World Series accomplishments and those of his teammates like John Olerud, Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar, but his mind is more focused on what the Jays of today are trying to accomplish.
“You build tradition and you build legacies on things like that. It’s great to have that in your past, but that’s what it is, the past. It’s a great memory and I’m so proud to be a part of it, but I think we’re building right now for the future of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. And that’s now,” Ward said. “I think they have a great little nucleus of players right now to get to that pinnacle again.”
At eight, young ballplayer Morgan LeGros knows little of the Blue Jays past. That said, the clinic was a pretty cool way to spend the first Saturday of summer vacation.
“It was really fun,” he said, glad to be taught how to better play the game, his parents Bob and Rhonda in the stands watching his every move.
And meeting a former major league ballplayer like Duane Ward? Well, that was the best thing of all for young Morgan.
“I think it was really cool because I’ve never met one before.”
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