Ward, now in his 70s, has created a website, recently upgraded, that has become a veritable shrine to that long-ago era before the distraction of big-time professional sports became the norm in these parts.
The site, goodoldsandlotdays.com, is packed with memorabilia, much of it presented for a wide audience for the first time: More than 7,000 photos and other images, thousands of individual names and rosters from in excess of 1,000 semi-pro teams, videos and even special tributes.
Ward, who lives in Burlingame, has spent the past five years working on his labor of love. He estimates that he has put in at least 8,500 hours on his homage to sandlot baseball as he travels up and down the northern half of the state seeking old timers’ scrapbooks, photographs, souvenir programs and assorted items linked to the period from the turn of the 19th century all the way into the 1970s.
The semi-pro game flourished through the Great Depression and the post-World War II years. Towns large and small had their own ballclubs, sponsored by everything from funeral parlors and saloons to auto dealerships and grocery stores.
Rosters were fluid, budgets were tight, playing fields were often rudimentary and uniforms were sometimes less than, well, uniform. Pay (even meal money on the road), never a given by any means, was sporadic at best. Most young players were strictly amateurs.
Newspapers — and there were a lot more of them then than there are now — regularly printed schedules (“bookings” as they were called then) of weekend ballgames. San Francisco, at one point, had more than 200 sandlot ballclubs.
Ward, a Peninsula property development and government relations consultant and former San Mateo County supervisor who once managed a semi-pro outfit in San Carlos decades ago, has preserved this rich heritage via the Internet. It has become his passion.
“I had no idea how much time [and money] this would require,” he said. “But it’s been more fun than working.”
His relentless quest has gotten to the point that he has to pick and choose his material carefully.
“I found three huge scrapbooks in a garage not long ago and it was almost overwhelming,” he said.
He is continuing to sift through that bonanza for nuggets suitable for his ever-growing project, which, he said, he plans to entrust to the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City at some point in the future.