R.I.P. to Kevin Ward, an outfielder whose long minor-league career ultimately paid off with two seasons in the major leagues. He died on March 9 in Coronado, Calif. from brain cancer. He was 57 years old. Ward played for the San Diego Padres (1991-92).
Kevin Ward was born in Lansdale, Pa. on September 28, 1961. He was a two-sport star in high school at Central Bucks West, and he was the quarterback that led his football team to the state championship in 1980. He chose to attend the University of Arizona on a football scholarship because he would be able to play baseball in the offseason.
Ward again starred in both sports in college as an outfielder in baseball and a quarterback and wide receiver in football. He ultimately chose baseball over football, signing with the Philadelphia Phillies when the team drafted him in the 6th Round of the 1983 Amateur Draft.
Ward would spend a total of 6 seasons in the Phillies system, hitting well in A-ball and AA but struggling in AAA. After batting averages that topped .300 in a couple of seasons, Ward hit .209 in his first taste of AAA in 1987 and .230 the following season. New management came in and wrote him off as just a pull hitter, and once you’re labeled in the minors, it tends to stick. An injury slowed his development, and he was released by the Phillies at the end of 1988.
Signing with Oakland over the offseason, Ward performed much better for the A’s. Though limited to 27 games in 1989, Ward hit .310 for AA Huntsville. He was promoted to AAA Tacoma in 1990 and batted .297 with 30 doubles and 10 home runs. He wasn’t brought to the majors even after that strong showing, and Ward was once again a free agent at the end of the season.
Ward signed a minor-league contract with the Padres and started 1991 with the Las Vegas Stars, the team’s AAA affiliate. Ward hit a career-high .322 in 83 games with the Stars. Not only was he named to the AAA All-Star team, but he finally got his first big-league promotions. The first occurred on May 9. With a number of injuries on the team, Ward was immediately put into the lineup on May 10 against the Expos and — in his first MLB at-bat — laced a double into left-center to score Fred McGriff from first base.
Ward reflected about his slow ascent to the majors with the Philadelphia Inquirer in a May 20, 1991 profile. Ward said he almost quit after being released by the Phillies and told by the A’s that he would have to start with them in AA.
“I’m a Christian and I always felt that if I apply myself with the belief that one day it would lead to the major leagues, that it would happen. My faith in God kept me going at a time when it didn’t appear things would work,” he said
Ward bounced back and forth to the majors a couple times in ’91, ultimately appearing in 44 games for the Padres, with a .243/.308/.402 slash line. He hit his first 2 MLB home runs and drive in 8 runs. Ward spent the entire season with San Diego in 1992, hitting .197 in 81 games. Though he was primarily a left fielder in his career, he played all three outfield positions. The Padres released him at the end of the season, and Ward retired from baseball after a brief stint with the Rockies’ AAA team in Colorado Springs in 1993.
For his career, Ward appeared in 125 games with the Padres, with 55 hits, 25 runs scored and 20 RBIs. He hit 5 home runs and had a .217/.288/.339 slash line.
Ward and his family stayed in California, settling in Coronado. He was a partner in Greystone Steakhouse, located in San Diego’s Gaslamp district. He and his wife Christy were also partners in a horse-racing venture with a horse named Skip to the Stone.
Ward’s obit (below) notes that the Pennsylvanian never lost his love of his hometown teams, even though he had relocated to the West Coast. Last year, he took his two children back to Philadelphia to watch the Eagles’ Super Bowl Parade.