Braiden Ward never even thought he had a chance at making it big in baseball, but here he is shining for the Wareham Gatemen in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Ward has made a name for himself through playing savvy baseball and being fast.
When I say fast, I do not mean fast for baseball, but fast enough to almost run a sub 4 second 40 meter dash. Ward has taken the Pac-12 by storm with his base running efforts. In Ward’s freshman year at Washington he led the Pac-12 with 19 stolen bases, and he one-upped himself finishing the 2019 season with a pac-12 leading 26 stolen bases. Ward is the first player since Arizona’s T.J. Steele to lead the Pac-12 in steals back-to-back years.
“It’s hard to even name 5 guys right now off the top of my head that are knows as speed demons in major league baseball” Ward Said. “Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, and Trea Turner have made a name for themselves through stealing bases but those players are few and far between in todays’ game that is dominated by power.”
Ward’s speed dates all the way back to his days in high school. He participated in the 2016 17U West National Team Championships and recorded the fasted 60-yard dash with a time of 6.23 seconds. Ward is more than a base stealer however, coming out of high school he was ranked the number 53 overall player in California and number 12 Shortstop by Perfect Game.
Ward has developed into the quintessential leadoff hitter through what he has done in his time with the Huskies. Ward led all UW freshmen with 57 games played and hit .304 with 6 doubles, 3 triples, and 14 runs batted in. Ward showed major signs of growth in his sophomore season leading the Huskies with 62 hits, and had a batting average of .321.
“Growing up I was always seen as the small and fast kid rather than someone who could play baseball” Ward said. “Because of that I never even really looked up to anybody knowing I would probably never play baseball. But watching a guy like Jose Altuve is awesome because he is small but can launch home runs and still steal bases.
Only one player has stolen 30 plus bags in each of the last seasons and that is Jose Altuve. Altuve is someone who won the 2017 MVP Award and has been one of the league’s best hitters the past couple of seasons. There is no one in the league that is like Jose Altuve.
According to mlb.com “for 12 straight seasons from 1982-1993, at least 10 Major Leaguers stole 50-plus bases. Since 1993, there have only been three seasons in which at least 10 players stole 40-plus basses, none since 2006.”
“Throughout the entire history of baseball we have seen the trend of small speedy guys getting on with a single and stealing second base” Ward said. “From there it is the job of the big guys to send small guys like me home and I think that’s how the game of baseball should still be played.
Players are hitting the ball more than ever in the history of baseball and further than ever before. Each season since 2015 the number of home runs has increased in Major League Baseball. An argument can be made that the balls are easier to hit or “juiced” as some have labeled it but the speedy lead-off batter is becoming rarer to find each season.
The lack of stolen bases in Major League Baseball has trickled down into college baseball. According to NCAA.com “the average batting average has gone up from .262 to .275, home runs have increased from .4 to .61 per game, and stolen bases have fallen from 1.15 to 1.01. Stolen Bases have decreased by 12.2 percent since 1970.”
“College baseball is very different than how major league is played” Ward said. In college, pitchers are more concerned with keeping runners on so focus on using pick-off moves and pitch-outs. From what I have heard it is harder to steal in college baseball than it is to steal in minor league baseball.”
Ward has had no such issues stealing bases at college level competition. During the summer of 2018, Ward played for the La Crosse Loggers of the Northwoods League. Ward did what he does best ranking second in the league for stolen bases with 35. This summer for the Wareham Gatemen Ward leads the Cape Cod Baseball League with 17 stolen bases.
Remember the name Braiden Ward. The age of small savvy lead-off hitters has been thrown to the wayside in favor of large powerful hitters, but Ward has the potential to be an exception. Ward’s story should serve as an inspiration to any young baseball player who may not fit the prototypical baseball build.
Photo by: Kristin Ostrowski