Ward (Carmel), Brown (Vernon Hills) looking for new college homes
A pair of jaw-dropping, heart-crushing moments in two months could frazzle a pitcher worse than getting lit up before recording a single out.
Dazed or not, Jay Ward, like any fierce competitor, got back to work. Immediately.
After Bowling Green State University announced on May 15 that it was eliminating its baseball program effective immediately, leaving the futures of Ward and his teammates in limbo, the former Carmel Catholic left-hander hopped on social media.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Ward posted on Twitter video of himself pitching, even including the speeds of his fastball (88-89 mph), slider (83-85 mph), curve (77-79 mph) and changeup (79-81 mph). His tweet explained he was entering the NCAA transfer portal and "looking for a new home."
"My Twitter DMs just blew up after that," Ward said. "I had like 50, 60 coaches [from all levels] reaching out to me."
While Ward, who has three years of eligibility remaining, is confident his story will have a happy ending, other collegiate athletes, including incoming freshmen, might not be as fortunate. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a ripple effect. Three days after Bowling Green said it was cutting baseball as part of the university's effort to slice $2 million off the department of athletics budget, Furman University announced it was discontinuing its baseball and men's lacrosse programs.
Akron has also dropped sports programs, and other universities are expected to follow as part of cost-cutting.
Vernon Hills middle infielder Tony Brown, who graduated this month, signed with Furman last winter and was expected to enroll at the South Carolina university this fall.
His plans have changed.
"What my family and I are looking for is somewhere where I'll get a good education and a school that's going to put me in the best position to eventually get drafted," said Brown, the son of former Bears defensive end Alex Brown.
Just before Furman made its announcement official, athletic director Jason Donnelly held a Zoom conference with the coaches and players. Brown was on that Zoom conference.
"We all were very, very sad," Brown said. "A lot of us were crying because we've worked so hard to wear that 'Diamond F' of Furman."
For Ward, Bowling Green's announcement came just two months after the NCAA canceled the rest of the 2020 season due to the pandemic. The Falcons were en route to North Alabama for a weekend series when they had to turn around their bus and go home because of the virus. They were in their team locker room when the news broke that the season was being canceled.
Jaw-drop No. 1.
"It was eerie," Ward said. "As soon as they told us that we're not playing, you could hear a pin drop in that locker room. Everybody was just astounded and shocked. We've been playing baseball year-round, and it was just all taken away from us."
Two months later, while Bowling Green's players and coaches were having their weekly Zoom conference, and learning of the elimination of their program, Ward was taking his last final of the school year. His phone started blowing up.
Jaw-drop No. 2.
"We were totally blindsided," the 2018 Carmel graduate and Lake Villa resident said. "No one knew until then. Not even the coaches."
Ward, a sophomore who pitched 7 innings out of the bullpen this season, cleaned out his locker last week.
"I love it here," said Ward, an exercise science major. "I really have enjoyed my time here. Everyone's been super nice and kind, and the program's doing really well. Even though we started off slow (2-11 record), we had a ton of young talent. Our starting rotation was just getting in line, and everything was falling into place."
His new place could be anywhere.
"I just want to play baseball," Ward said. "I'll go anywhere, really. I want to play Division I college baseball. My goal is to stay at the same level."
Brown, who had an offer from St. Louis University before committing to Furman, also is willing to travel.
"I'm reaching out to coaches," Brown said. "I'm emailing any coaches that had interest in me prior to my commitment to Furman, sending them video from (last) summer because that's the last time I played. I'm just trying to compile all of those videos and show my best self."