by Mike Magers
Duane Ward was born May 28, 1964 in Park View, New Mexico and played at Farmington High School. Some of you probably already knew where Park View is located, but a quick search will place it in Rio Arriba County in northern New Mexico and a note that it now goes by the name of Los Ojos.
Originally two early communities sprang up near one another, Park View and Los Ojos. Park View dates back to the 1870s (Los Ojos spang up a little later) and a post office was opened there in 1877, though the Park View community eventually died out. A second post office was opened in Los Ojos in 1880 but retained the name of Park View. Residents elected to change the name officially to Los Ojos and it has been known as Los Ojos since 1972.
At one time in 1995, Duane was the only New Mexico player in Major League Baseball. He was the ninth player selected in the amateur draft in 1982 by the Atlanta Braves. Duane was a hard throwing fastball pitcher, also developing a slider early on. The next four years, he was used by the Braves in the minor leagues mostly as a starter, as he worked his way through from the Rookie league up to AAA. The Braves called him up at the beginning of the 1986 season and he made his major league debut as a starter on April 12, 1986. Initially, he struggled a bit with control and a couple of months later, he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in a deal involving veteran Doyle Alexander. The Jays sent him back to AAA in Syracuse where he continued to work as a starter. The next year he began to be used as a reliever, where he appeared to find his place. He was called up briefly to the Blue Jays in 1987, but spent most of the season in AAA.
The following season he was called up to the major league club where he made a solid showing as a middle reliever, eating up innings in tandem with closer Tom Henke. He was a dependable reliever in the role of setting games up for the closer for five seasons, logging over 100 innings pitched in each, with the high water mark being 127 innings in 1990 under manager Cito Gaston.
Henke left the Jays for free agency after their great 1992 season that ended with a World Series Championship and Ward moved to the role as closer, a position he would hold for a couple of seasons. In that role he performed well, racking up a league leading 45 saves in 1993. He suffered a torn rotator cuff in 1994. After surgery, he attempted to come back several times, but made his final appearance in the big leagues on June 22, 1995.
During his career Duane pitched in two of the Blue Jays best seasons in history, including their back to back World Series Championships. Even his old team, the Braves, had to endure good performances from Duane and the Jay’s bullpen as they fell to the Jays in the 1992 World Series. Ward pitched in all four of Toronto’s World Series wins, allowing no runs in 3 1/3 innings while striking out 6.
He was a durable pitcher, appearing in 462 games with his peak being 81 games in 1991. His career ERA was a respectable 3.28 and he is revered as one of the finest relievers in the Blue Jay’s history. His honors include being inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in its 2010 class.