CORRECTION: In the print version of this column, the first name of baseball coach Turner Ward was incorrectly used. Lagniappe regrets this error.
Just like many red-blooded American boys growing up in Mobile County, baseball took up a huge part of Turner Ward’s young life. Little did he know just how important the game would become as he grew older.
The Saraland native went on to star at Satsuma High School, before playing at Faulkner State Community College and the University of South Alabama. After being selected by the Yankees in the 1986 free agent draft, Ward went on to enjoy a 12-year major league career with the Indians, Blue Jays, Brewers, Pirates, Diamondbacks and Phillies.
Since, Ward may have hung up his glove, but he did not retire his uniform. He has gone on to be a very successful mentor, eventually making his way back to “The Show” as the hitting coach for Arizona.
Along the way, Ward did return home to guide the Mobile BayBears to consecutive championships in 2011 and 2012. For this effort, he is being inducted into the Southern League Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
“I just heard about it from our media department,” Ward said during a telephone interview with Lagniappe. “I am very excited about it.”
Ward is one of a dozen inductees. The entire list includes Scott Brosius, Carlos Delgado, Rollie Fingers, Trevor Hoffman, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Jason Kendall, Harmon Killebrew, Razor Shines, Frank Thomas and Lou Whitaker. To view all the biographies, visit www.southernleague.com.
“Just to see all those names that are going in,” Ward said with a sigh, “I am really honored to be mentioned with them.”
In 626 major league games, Ward hit .251 with 73 doubles, 11 triples, 39 home runs and 219 runs batted in. While he played in Toronto, the Blue Jays captured consecutive World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. In the 1999 National League Division Series with Pittsburgh, he hit a two-run, pinch-hit homer against the Mets.
Ward went 216-190 in four seasons as a minor league manager. After leading the Rookie GCL Pirates in 2006 and Short Season Class A State College in 2007, he returned to Mobile to serve as the BayBears’ hitting coach for three years.
In 2011, he took the helm and directed Mobile to an 84-53 record and the Southern League championship. He was named the league’s Manager of the Year, while the BayBears were recognized by Baseball America as the Minor League Team of the Year. Although the club slipped to a 69-71 record in 2012, they rallied in the postseason to defend their title.
“Being inducted into the Southern League Hall of Fame as a coach represents the kinds of players you have,” Ward said. “All of these people made an impact, and should reap the benefits.
“I had so many great players over the years in the Southern League. Many have moved onto the big leagues, and it has been a great honor to see those guys go from a young age and mature into big leaguers.” Some of those players he mentioned include Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, Chase Anderson and Adam Eaton.
After the 2012 season, Ward was promoted to the Diamondbacks’ staff as the hitting coach. The BayBears are Arizona’s Class AA farm club.
“I help the players in many ways,” Ward said. “I work with them on the mental part of the game, how to maintain a good approach at the plate, and to stay with their strengths. Even as big leaguers, your mechanics can get off synch.
“The other part of my job is to know about the pitchers we are facing. I will watch the last three starts and look for any edge. What are his weapons, and how does he try and use them? I want to have a good plan going into the game.”
The Diamondbacks opened their regular season last week. So it may be hard for him to attend his latest Hall of Fame induction, which follows invitations to the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and Alabama Junior College Hall of Fame in 1996.
“I want to thank everyone for all the support over these years,” Ward said. He and his wife, Donna, have three children: Tucker, a junior who plays at Louisiana Tech; Olin and Kendall. “It can be a sacrifice being away from your family and friends.
“I’ve been in baseball for 20 years. It never crossed my mind that I would have this career. It has been such a great honor.”
Mobile fixtures to host football preview
The Reese’s Senior Bowl and DEX Imaging are coming together to help sponsor the L’Arche Mobile Football Preview dinner. The 21st annual event is set for Wednesday, May 27, at the University of South Alabama’s Mitchell Center at 6 p.m.
“We are so honored and thrilled to link up with DEX Imaging in co-sponsoring the L’Arche Football Preview dinner,” said Phil Savage, Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director. “The Reese’s Senior Bowl has been looking for a signature event during the off-season, to not only bring attention to our game, but to also support one of the great causes in our area. L’Arche Mobile is a perfect fit.”
L’Arche Mobile is a Christian community that shares life with people with intellectual disabilities in a permanent family-like environment. L’Arche relies on donations and fundraisers for financial support.
High school coaches who have had a positive influence on youth are also honored at the dinner. Hackbarth Delivery Service and Aviation Services are presenting sponsors this year. Guest speakers will be announced soon.
Jaguars open new online store
The University of South Alabama has partnered with Advanced Online to offer the “Jaguar Locker Room,” an Internet store showcasing authentic USA gear.
The site, located at www.jaguarlockerroom.com, will serve as a general store for individuals who support USA athletics. In addition to apparel and gear like that worn by coaches and player, other items include tailgating accessories, collectibles and gifts representing all 17 sports.
“As Jag Nation has grown, the demand for our athletic gear has increased exponentially over the years,” said Travis Toth, USA’s associated athletic director for external affairs.
A portion of the proceeds benefit the Jaguar Athletic Fund and gift certificates are also available.