(Reading, PA) - Nick Ward grew up about an hour outside of Reading, in Kennett Square. Growing up, he dreamed of one-day playing in the Phillies Organization. He frequented many Phillies games growing up, but never made the trip west on the turnpike to catch the Double- A R-Phils. The first time he stepped foot in FirstEnergy Stadium was the night of his Reading home debut.
“I gave my dad a ton of grief for that,” Ward jokingly said. “Growing up a diehard Phillies fan, he taught me the game by taking me to Veteran Stadium and Citizens Bank Park. We never made it to Reading to watch a Minor League Game, so the first time I set foot in this stadium was when I played, which was odd, but it felt that much more special. My first time walking in the stadium was absolutely surreal.”
As many other kids growing up in the Philadelphia area, Ward idolized Chase Utley. Ward reminisced on getting to play on the same field as Utley and many of his other childhood heroes.
“It is super cool,” Ward said. “I get to come to work every day at the same place as the people I grew up idolizing. I have to pinch myself sometimes.”
After graduating from Unionville High School, Ward was down to two schools to play college baseball at, VCU and nearby West Chester University. Ward ultimately decided to play his college ball at VCU. After one season with the Rams, Ward knew that he wanted to go back home.
“Once I decided that I wanted to transfer, I knew where I wanted to go,” Ward said. “I knew I wanted to play baseball at West Chester. So it was actually a pretty easy decision.”
At West Chester, Ward hit .337 with 121 RBI over his three seasons with the Golden Rams. He was an every day player at West Chester. As a senior, Ward helped lead his team to a NCAA Division-II National Championship.
In his senior year, Ward was named First Team All-PSAC, amongst other honors. Ward was also a NCBWA Honorable Mention All-American and a CCA Honorable Mention All-American. Ward went on to be drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 34th round of the 2018 draft.
Before getting the call from Philadelphia, Ward spent his last two seasons of professional baseball in the Frontier League for the Washington Wild Things. In his last season with the team, Ward hit .349, with 19 homers and 61 RBI. His strong 2022 included an OPS of 1.098. The Phillies purchased Ward’s contract from the Wild Things, bringing him one step closer to living his dream.
Prior to the 2023 season, Ward had the opportunity to play for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic. It was an experience he described as one of the best in his life, because he was "playing for something bigger than himself."
‘I’m having to remind myself that I am going to work, this doesn’t feel like work,” Ward said. “I get to play for the Phillies which is really, really cool.”
Ward started the season in the Phillies Organization with High-A Jersey Shore. Before getting called up to Reading on August 8th, Ward hit.270 with eight home runs and 50 RBI in 50 games with the BlueClaws.
“I’ve been floating on cloud nine ever since I signed with the Phillies,” Ward said. “I tried to earn my way up here [to Reading] and get to play super close to home. I haven’t had the chance since I was at West Chester and this is pretty special."
Making the jump from High-A to Double-A is considered by many as the hardest jump a player makes, besides getting the call up to the big leagues. Ward mentioned that the toughest part of the transition is his mentality coming to the plate. He says that he has had to change his preparation since joining the Fightins. Ward credits his teammates and coaching staff for preparing him for this process.
He quickly burst onto the scene at Double-A. In his second game with Reading, Ward hit two home runs, a double, drove in five runs and scored three as well; setting many career highs on Aug. 10 at New Hampshire.
“They’ve made it a lot easier on me for my transition,” Ward said. “It’s the same game, it’s still 60 feet, six inches to the pitcher’s mound. It’s more of a metal thing than it is a physical one, but it takes a little bit more to succeed in Double-A than it does in High-A.”
Like many other players fighting their way to the big leagues, they may find themselves playing a different position every time their name is on the lineup card. Being versatile can help a player get into the lineup more often.
This is something that Ward has been accustomed to doing. Though mostly playing shortstop growing up, Ward doesn't have a preference to where he plays as long as he gets an opportunity to play. Ward gave a lot of praise to former big league infielder Joey Wendle, another West Chester alum, for pushing him to play all positions of the field. This is a role that Ward enjoys.
He mentioned in his last season of college summer ball in 2017, he played all eight positions besides catcher. He even joked about throwing the catchers gear on before season ended for Reading.
“If I get to hit and my name is in the lineup, I could care less what position I play,” Ward said. “If you’re not a first round pick, you have to make yourself valuable somewhere. Obviously what you do with the bat is going to keep your name in the lineup and the more positions you can play, the more opportunities you’re going to have on the field.”
With the nature of Minor League Baseball, Ward knows he has to make the most of every day and each opportunity he is presented with. That being said, Ward has continued to put the work in to try and get better on the field.
When asked what his long term goals were, Ward noted that he hopes to one day make it to the major leagues, whether that be with the Phillies or whoever else may give him an opportunity. Though that can be very stressful, Ward is taking every opportunity he has to make his childhood dreams come true.
"Obviously I’d love to be back with the Phillies and play in the big leagues,” Ward said. “That has been my dream since I was five years old. I’m going back to Australia this winter and continuing to get at bats over the offseason. I can be much more prepared and do my best to be ready for Spring Training. I haven’t thought too far ahead, but I just try to take it one day at a time and not get too far ahead of myself.”
The Reading Fightin Phils return to FirstEnergy Stadium to open the 2024 season on April 9, 2024, against the Portland Sea Dogs. Season tickets, mini plans, and group outings for 2024 are now available. For more details, go to rphils.com, call 610-370-BALL, or at the Customers Bank Ticket Office.
The 2023 R-Phils season is presented by Pepsi. Follow the Fightin Phils on Twitter @ReadingFightins, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Instagram @Fightins.