The 2011 season was sure a good one for Orioles minor league catcher Brian Ward. He hit .254 for Single-A Frederick, but it was his defense that drew rave reviews for his work behind the plate and for handling the Keys pitching staff that led the league in ERA on its way to the Carolina League championship.
Then, after the season, Ward played in the Arizona Fall League. This March, he made a good impression on the Orioles' coaches in major league spring training.
Ward was considered a player on the rise, and his strong work on defense was putting him in position to potentially one day become Matt Wieters' backup in Baltimore. Things were looking up for him, and he was set to begin the season catching at Double-A Bowie.
Then came the news that changed a few things: Ward was suspended 50 games for a second violation of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The announcement came on April 4, the day before Bowie's season opener. The violation was for a drug of abuse and not for a performance-enhancing drug.
In an interview Friday with MASNsports.com, Ward spoke for the first time about his suspension.
"I wasn't expecting it. I was in shock. It was a mistake on my part. I felt horrible," Ward said by phone Friday from Sarasota, Fla.
"I should have never done it. I let my family down, and I let the organization down. I am just hoping that I can move forward from this and start playing games again.
"I apologized to them (the Orioles). Obviously, they weren't too happy about it. The Orioles have treated me pretty good, and I feel like I let the Orioles and my teammates down. I've just got to bounce back from it."
Ward said he would rather not reveal which drug he tested positive for, but said it was the same drug that also produced a positive test in March 2011. Even after two positive tests in two years, Ward said he does not have a drug problem.
"Absolutely not. I'm 100 percent confident that this will never happen again," Ward said.
"It was real crushing blow, just horrible. MLB has a drug policy, and I screwed up and am serving time for it. I just have to bounce back from it and play well when I get back."
Ward could be back on the field soon. He said his suspension should end sometime around June 1. During his suspension, he has been allowed to take part in workouts at the Orioles' facilities in Florida.
"You can't play in any games, but I've been working out and hitting and throwing. Catching bullpens. I'm ready to go and start playing games in a couple of weeks.
"Milt May has been working with me on my swing. Gary Allenson is a guy that I talk with about the mental side of catching. I'm making the best of it. I feel like this will not put me back at all. If anything, it makes me more hungry to get back and play," he said.
There are some in the organization that feel that Ward is not that far away from the major leagues and could possibly hold his own defensively there right now.
"I got some playing time in big league camp," Ward said. "I knew from watching and playing in those games that I can play there and help the Orioles win. I got huge (positive) feedback, not just from the coaches but from the players as well. That was very encouraging," he said.
So Ward hopes to be back on the diamond again soon, and then Orioles fans can begin to follow his progression toward the majors on the field, where he made such solid strides last year.
The first few months of this season have not gone as he had hoped. Rather than seeing his name in box scores, he saw it in stories not very favorable toward him. But he said that is behind him now.
"It's embarrassing, but there is no excuse for it. It was a bad, immature mistake on my part. It won't happen again. After it has happened twice, what would make someone think it won't happen again? I can't make them believe it. All I can do is prove that," Ward said.