You may not realize it but, spring training starts in February for several Major League baseball teams. The Arizona Diamondbacks Assistant Hitting Coach is Saraland’s Turner Ward. Coach Ward is preparing for his second season with the Mobile Bay Bears parent club. He recently shared about his career, as a player and manager and how years ago he decided to pursue a life in professional baseball.
“I used to get everyone’s annual in high school and sign it Turner Ward, see you when I’m in the big leagues. I would write my number and draw a little baseball bat and a baseball. My senior memory book I kind of wrote out this is what I’m going to do,” remembers Ward.
Mobile Sports Hall of Famer Turner Ward “made” it to the big leagues and played 12-seasons in Major League baseball. Drafted by the New York Yankees in 1986, he played for six teams in both the American and National Leagues. Ward was in elementary school when he first thought of playing professionally.
“I went to my first and only Major League game before I actually stepped onto the field and played in one, and my dad took us to Atlanta. Hank Aaron was closing in on his home run record. Every time he swung the bat, the stadium lights just went “poof, poof”, lights just flashing all over the place. Then, man sure enough he hit one out and that moment in time where it was like, this is what I would really like to do,” shared Ward.
At 14, Ward was focused.
“I needed to get stronger, faster and so I started training that way and started working hard at that age,” reflected Ward.
His encouragement came from his coaches, his parents and his brother Wes.
“I was always trying to play catch with my brother Wes. I played baseball with him and sometimes when he was pitching and I hadn’t grown enough, I was his catcher. Our parents really gave us the freedom to be able go out there and enjoy and play the game, they always supported us. There were so many coaches that I couldn’t even sit here and mention all the names because everyone of them has impacted in some way,” shared Ward.
Early on, Ward learned success was not guaranteed.
“Not making my freshman baseball team and here I had decided, that I wanted to be a Major League baseball player. I worked really hard and the next year I made the varsity as a sophomore. It was a stepping stone, I think sometimes failure can kind of inspire you or jump start you to get to another place and that’s what it did to me. Failing was a good thing,” said Ward.
A no quit attitude carried Ward to success on the diamond at Satsuma High school, Faulkner State and then on to South Alabama.
“Each level was a different new challenge. Coach Kittrell and Coach Larker were big influences helping prepare me to get to the next level: the work ethic and the hard work. I loved to compete. I loved the challenge. The good Lord gave me my speed and arm and being able to hit a baseball. And, I just loved to slide and I just loved to get down and get dirty and just play hard,” stated Ward.
After successful seasons in the minors with the Yankees, they traded Ward to Cleveland. The Indians put him on a big league field in 1990 at age 25.
“Amazing, I can remember going up to my very first at bat and Cleveland stadium. Just so excited man. I just really felt like everybody in the stadium could see my knees shaking. I was thinking, why am I so nervous and scared, I’ve been waiting on this forever since I was nine years old as a dreamer. I swung at the first three pitches. And, I really believe if you would have thrown a ball at me I probably would have swung at it,” remembers Ward.
Traded to Toronto in 1991, Ward saw limited playing time during the Blue Jays back to back World Series championships.
“We had a great team. Turner Ward wasn’t going to play a whole lot. It was frustrating for me but it, I learned so much. I started learning to use my mind more and that kind of helped me move my career to a different level,” shared Ward.
Ward headed to the National League’s Pittsburgh Pirates in 1997 and had a productive season as the fourth outfielder. In the 98 season he had a defining moment.
“I used to always, I would tell people, man that I would run thru a wall to catch a ball, and I knew when I was going to that wall I was going to hit it. I knew I was going to hit it hard, but I was not going to take my eye off that ball and I was going to do everything possible to catch it. I never lost focus, kind of inspiring, I made that play,” states Ward.
His unforgettable catch as a Pittsburgh Pirate is still on the Internet today.
“My role became I’m going to try and be the best fourth, fifth outfielder in baseball. When I got that mindset it took me to another level of my game I was able to focus more. Coming in and facing a closer late in the game and, being able to have success is tough, so it even challenged me even more. I took that in to every at bat, every at bat was that important, every pitch I put that kind of focus into it” reflected Ward.
Ward also spent time with the Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring in 2001. He followed advice and took time off from the game before his next step. Ward returned to Mobile County and worked with youth at two Baptist churches until he received another call.
“I knew I was a coach, and then out of the blue one of my buddies who was in a position to hire, says hey we’d like you to come manage our minor league club in Florida. I did and spent two years with the Pirates organization. Then, the job right here in Mobile opened up and they hired me. So, I spent the next five years here in Mobile with the BayBears, being the hitting coach for the first 3 and then managing the next two years. To be right at home, I enjoyed it, it was great,” said Ward.
Ward managed the BayBears to back to back Southern League championships.
“That 2011 team, there was nobody that could beat us, we just had a great group of talent. So many guys off that team went to the big leagues. We should have and were supposed to win. After a slow start they took off and wasn’t anything stopping them, it was a great team. And then the next year it was just a bunch of scrappers. We didn’t have the best hitting; we didn’t have the best pitching. They knew how to win a ball game, that was even more special,” states Ward.
“There is going to be adversity, there’s going to be failure, there’s going to be hard times. But, I think when you can really grab a hold of those things and push through them and get to the other side of them. That’s when you really can appreciate what you just went through. And so, don’t quit, don’t stop, just enjoy what you’re doing, just keep doing it, focus on what you love to do,” said Ward.
Turner Ward also credits his wife Donna for his success. They have been together since Satsuma High school. Ward said he chose South Alabama over several other schools because that’s where she was enrolled. He thankfully adds Donna sacrificed her time and “safety”, five and sometimes six nights a week to feed the batting machine helping him become a major league hitter.