JUPITER, Fla. – The Ward family from tiny Leedey, Okla., made their way to Red Field 2 at the Roger Dean Complex Saturday morning with plenty time to spare.
Parents Gregg and Susan Ward with their college-age daughters Courtney and Paige traveled here from western Oklahoma with their son and brother Drew Ward to watch Drew play for the Royals Baseball Club at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championship, the nation’s most prestigious tournament for high school-aged prospects.
Drew Ward is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound primary shortstop who has impressed college coaches from across the country and the professional scouting community with a skill level that seem well beyond his 16 years and his status as a sophomore at tiny Leedey High School.
To say Ward attends a small high school is a bit of an understatement. Allow him to break down the numbers:
“I’ve only got 13 kids in my whole grade (10th),” Ward said Saturday, “and only about 125 in my whole high school. And I’ve only got 400 people in my whole town.”
That hasn’t kept scouts and talent evaluators like those at Perfect Game from singing Ward’s praises. He is the nation’s No. 1-ranked prospect in the class of 2014 and by attending events like the WWBA World Championship – which is geared primarily toward high school seniors – he is sure to garner even more attention.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. This is way more scouts than I’ve ever played in front of, with all the golf carts driving around and everything, but it’s pretty fun,” Ward said.
Drew performed in three other “big stage” events this summer – the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase, the Area Code Games and the Perfect Game National Games Class of 2013 – and Gregg and Susan have been with him for each one. The WWBA World Championship is a slightly different animal.
“It’s been awesome so far, it really has. We’ve been very impressed,” Susan said Saturday morning.
“We went to Fort Myers in June for the underclass event (the PG Junior National Showcase) and we were really impressed, and then we went to the one in San Diego (the PG National Games), and everything we’ve been to with Perfect Game we’ve been very impressed,” Gregg said.
Although he has been involved with PG for only a short time, Drew Ward fully understands the benefits his participation brings. Playing small-school baseball in Oklahoma helps put things in perspective.
“It’s helped me tons,” Drew said. “It’s got me out there in front of everybody and now all these summer-ball teams have been wanting to get me on their teams because of (Perfect Game) – and you guys have ranked me high so that helped a lot.”
Not that the national No. 1 ranking is something Ward thinks about a lot.
“I just go out and play. I don’t want to pay too much attention to it,” he said with a smile.
Drew’s parents are certain the PG experiences will be beneficial for their son.
“Most definitely; most definitely,” Susan said. “The talent pool is so high and the competition is so high that he has to step up. He has to perform.”
It is the difference in the quality of pitching Drew faces at events such as this one compared to what he sees during his high school seasons that stands out most to the Wards.
“We come from a small town … and we’re used to seeing 78 to 80 mph (fastballs),” Gregg said. “And then he comes to these events and sees the best around – 88 to 94 or whatever – and that’s very beneficial to him in his process of trying to get better.”
Just the quality of the players who are surrounding Ward on Royals Baseball Club roster is impressive. One of his teammates is PG All-American Keon Barnum, a University of Miami recruit.
College recruiting efforts are starting to gain steam but because Ward is only a sophomore in high school there are limits to what colleges can do right now. They can’t make personal contact with him but can send out exploratory letters and questionnaires.
“I have got a lot of stuff from a lot of different colleges,” he said.
It seems unlikely that a kid from a small Oklahoma town can develop into a elite prospect at such a young age, but there was this youngster from Commerce, Okla., who seemed to make the transition work out OK more than 60 years ago. His name was Mickey Mantle.
Ward’s parents seem to recognize the reason for his early successes.
“It’s his work ethic. It’s amazing,” Susan said. “We’ve been traveling with Drew, believe it or not, since he was 5 (years old) playing traveling ball.” The parents would take Drew to Oklahoma City every weekend – a round trip of about 300 miles – just so he could play baseball.
“And it was all him,” Susan continued. “On Fridays he’d get off the school bus, grab his stuff and he’d be in the car ready to go. He works very hard and he’s very dedicated.”
As a family, the Wards have discussed the possibility of burn-out or Drew getting overwhelmed by the attention he receives. In the end it will come down to just how much baseball Drew wants to play throughout his high school years, and as it stand right now he wants to play a lot.
“We’re really excited, and we’re excited because Drew’s so excited and he wants it so bad,” Susan said. “It’s his dream, not ours.”
Gregg built Drew a 40x80-foot barn on their property in Leedey, complete with a carpeted batting cage.
“He goes up there by himself and will hit off the tee,” Gregg said. “His passion for wanting to play baseball is just … and with the good Lord willing and things work out, he’s got a chance.”
The Wards have considered moving Drew into a larger high school only because of the additional opportunities that could be afforded him.
“We’ve kicked it around but we just don’t know,” Susan said.
“As long as he plays in the Perfect Game (events) and as long as he’s in the top sector in the summertime, we’re not as concerned,” Gregg said. “That’s what we’ll continue to do, is Perfect Game stuff – as long as they’ll have us.”