Boston pitching prospect Thad Ward grew up in Fort Myers and attended many Red Sox spring training games as a youngster.
“A Red Sox spring training game was the first special baseball game I ever saw,” Ward said during a phone interview Friday. “Ever since then I was in love with the Red Sox. I was a huge Red Sox fan. I used to have a Fathead of David Ortiz on my wall in my bedroom. Huge Red Sox fan. I actually got to be a bat boy for a spring training game for them.”
He forgets the exact year he served as bat boy but he said it was either 2004 or 2007. A friend’s parent helped him receive the opportunity.
More than a decade later, Ward is making his own mark in the Red Sox minor league system. Boston selected the 6-foot-3 Ward in the fifth round of the 2018 Draft out of UCF.
The 22-year-old righty has a 2.50 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and .204 batting average against in nine starts for Low-A Greenville. He has struck out 58 and walked 18 in 50.1 innings. He’s scheduled to start vs. Augusta on Saturday.
“Josh Beckett was one of my favorite (pitchers) for a while,” Ward said. “Curt Schilling was one of my favorites. But one of my favorite pitchers of all time is Nolan Ryan. That’s just because my dad was a huge Nolan Ryan fan growing up. So he has a lot of memorabilia when Nolan Ryan pitched. The famous (photo) when he dragged Robin Ventura around the mound and was beating the lights out of him, we have that picture hanging up in our house.”
Ward comes from a very athletic family. His dad Steve ran track and field at LSU.
“Back in his day, he was the fastest half miler in Louisiana,” Ward said.
But Steve began focusing his attention on baseball when his other son Zack Ward showed a passion for the sport. Zack is nine years older than Thad.
“My dad read every single baseball book out there about how to coach baseball, how to teach it,” Ward said. “When my brother got into pitching, he read every pitching book there was out there. He read all the Tom House stuff. He was a big fan of Nolan Ryan. And Tom House was (Ryan’s) pitching coach. So he read every Tom House book there was.
“When I came along and I expressed interest in baseball, he just really applied the same teachings,” Ward said. “My dad was really my only pitching coach up until my senior year of high school.”
Steve has become active in baseball himself.
“My dad is an umpire,” Ward said. “He umpires a lot of spring training. He umpires a lot of minor league stuff. But he stays local. It’s kind of like a side job for him because he’s a computer programmer.”
Brother Zack, meanwhile, played three years of basketball and one year of baseball at Averett University. He recently took over as head basketball coach at St. John Neumann in Naples, Fla.
Zack previously served as head coach of LaBelle High where he won multiple FACA District Coach of the Year awards.
“My senior year of high school, he was the basketball coach for our district rival out in LaBelle,” Ward said. “So my senior year it was me playing vs. him coaching.
“Me and my brother are both very competitive with each other,” Ward added. “We mess around a lot. Mainly about basketball because he still thinks he can beat me in basketball, which has never been true.
Ward laughed and then continued, “He’s extremely supportive of my career and what I’ve been doing.”
Ward starred as a shooting guard in high school. He received a couple opportunities to play basketball collegiately.
“I decided baseball was my better route,” he said.
Ward throws a sinker, cutter, four-seam fastball, slider and curveball. He has topped out at 95 mph several times this year.
His slider is his best pitch. He added his cutter during the final two weeks of spring training.
“And it’s become a primary pitch for me,” Ward said.
He told the Red Sox last year after they drafted he wanted to learn to throw a cutter. The staff agreed he should learn the pitch, but they wanted him to refine his other four pitches first.
“Then during spring training, I was just playing catch with one of my teammates who threw a very good cutter,” he said.
Ward asked his teammate how he threw the pitch.
“And I kind of started messing with it,” Ward said. “Several different pitching coaches saw me messing with it. And they thought it was pretty decent. So we just went ahead. They taught me how to throw a better cutter from my arm angle and arm slot.”
The toughest transition to professional ball is “all nine guys (in the lineup) can hurt you at some point in a game in different ways,” he said.
Depending on the caliber of a college team, two to five hitters in an opposing batting order can do damage, he said.
“Knowing you can’t take your foot off the gas for any particular hitter, that took a lot,” Ward said. “That’s something I struggled with a little early in Lowell (last year after signing).”
A promotion to High-A Salem is likely for Ward this season if he continues to pitch so well.
“I try not to really concern myself with all that,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not really something I can control. I can’t control when they call me up and move me down or if I get traded. The only thing I can control is how I play. It’s my preparation, my ability to pitch is the only thing I really can control. I’m taking things day by day and doing my best to put in the work and show that I’m ready to move up. Then when a decision finally comes, I’ll be ready for it.”