How special was Kevin Ward in the history of Arizona Wildcats athletics?
Nobody else can say they were the holder for a game-winning field goal at Notre Dame and batted over .400 for Jerry Kindall in the same year — 1982.
Ward, a throwback to the old times with his two-sport star status from 1979-83 in football and baseball, died Saturday at 57 from brain cancer.
According to an obituary posted by The Coronado Times, Ward took his family of four to the victory parade last February after his beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl. Only 10 months later, at the start of December three months ago, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
Ward, out of Doylestown, Pa., was regarded as one of the best option quarterbacks in the country when he signed with Arizona’s football team in 1979, then coached by Tony Mason.
He was Arizona’s starting quarterback by his sophomore season in 1980 after Mark Fulcher went down with a knee injury early that season. Three games later, new coach Larry Smith opted to try freshman Tom Tunnicliffe as the starter reasoning that the Wildcats were abandoning an option-style offense with more of a passing game with a drop-back passer.
Ward was switched to receiver, a move he did not fight, showing his admirable character.
“It’s a team thing,” Ward told The Arizona Daily Star. “I know I can be a receiver. I have the speed and the hands. And we don’t have the depth at receiver to run the offense like we want.”
Earlier in 1980, Ward played for the junior varsity baseball team at Arizona. He signed with Arizona because Mason promised him the opportunity to play baseball. Ward was an All-American quarterback at Central Bucks High School in Chalfont, Pa., and batted .546 as a center fielder.
The Stars family lost a great man today. A father, mentor, coach, & big leaguer, Kevin Ward. The impact that he left on our organization can’t be expressed through words. We love you Kevin, Ryan and the rest of the Ward family. #KW30 RIP Kev. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/VU9k0dOl9D
— San Diego Stars (@SanDiegoStarsBB) March 10, 2019
He reportedly chose Arizona over Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan, Miami and others because of the ability to play baseball, especially for Kindall, who at the time of Ward’s recruitment had led the Wildcats to the 1976 College World Series title.
By the time his baseball career ended at Arizona in 1983, he led the Wildcats in RBIs twice and stolen bases in one season. An All-Six-Pac outfielder in 1982, he batted .403 that season.
On the football field, Ward became a reliable receiver and a noted placekick holder (because of his reliable hands) for legendary Max Zendejas, who made the historic game-winning field goal with Ward as his holder at Notre Dame in 1982.
Zendejas messaged me that the passing of Ward, “is so sad,” and that Ward was a “great holder, amazing athlete, very confident and a great leader.”
Ward also had two catches for 28 yards in that game. In his two-plus years as a receiver with the Wildcats, Ward had 48 catches for 749 yards.
In 1983, he was a sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies, his childhood favorite team. After he toiled in the minors with three organizations over parts of eight seasons, he made his big league debut on May 10, 1991, with the San Diego Padres at age 29.
We are deeply saddened by the passing of @ArizonaBaseball and @ArizonaFBall Letterwinner Kevin Ward. Kevin exemplified what it means to #BearDown and he will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with the Ward family and Kevin's friends and teammates! pic.twitter.com/fSrTlFaKN4
— Arizona A-Club (@UALETTERWINNERS) March 12, 2019
Ward played 44 games that year and 81 more games in 1992, his last year in the majors. He hit .217 with five homers and 20 RBIs in 125 games, all with the Padres. He retired after spending the 1993 season with the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate.
Ward lived in Coronado, Calif., with his wife Christy, whom he met while they were students at Arizona.
After his baseball career was over he became involved with investment banking and the restaurant business.
Ward was a part owner of Greystone Steakhouse, a high-scale restaurant in San Diego’s Gaslamp district. He was also active in the horse racing industry, winning graded-stakes races as one of the owners of “Skip to the Stone” in 2001 and 2002.
The Greystone Steakhouse name came from his co-ownership of the Greystone Racing Stables in California. One of the owners was Jack Daugherty, who was a college roommate of Ward’s at Arizona before he went on to a major league career with the Texas Rangers.
The legendary Bob Baffert, another Arizona alum, trained some of their horses.
Kevin is also survived by two children, Rose and Ryan, his mother Pauline, and brothers, Robert, Dennis and David.
Ryan Ward, 15, is a touted freshman prospect at Coronado High School who has already verbally committed to Arizona’s program. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, he plays in the outfield and third base. He was selected to the National 14-and-under Top Prospect List by PerfectGame.org.
A funeral mass for Kevin will be held at noon on Monday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Coronado. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Kevin’s name to the Pro Athletes Outreach Foundation or to the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.