University of Arizona football/baseball player Kevin Ward, 1979-83.

In my first year in Tucson, I had the privilege of serving as the beat writer for Jerry Kindall’s 1982 UA baseball team, whose best player was Kevin Ward, a special athlete who also started as a UA wide receiver in 1981 and 1982. Ward led the Pac-10 in hitting that year, at .403, and went on to play two seasons for the San Diego Padres. Ward tragically died of brain cancer last week in San Diego; he was just 57. In a game at USC in 1982 — the Star used to cover all UA baseball games, home and road — Ward had a home-plate collision with USC catcher Jack Del Rio, also a two-sport athlete and NFL linebacker who went on to become an NFL head coach. After that game, I asked Ward if he was injured or dazed when he and Del Rio, an All-American, smacked into one another at the plate. “I had to go one-on-one with Ricky Hunley in a tackling drill during training camp last year, with the whole team watching,” Ward said. “If you survive that, you don’t whine about much.” Kevin’s son, Ryan Ward, has already committed to play for Arizona; he is a top prospect, a freshman third baseman at Coronado High School near San Diego.