NEW YORK -- Just when it seemed as if Davis Ward's childhood dreams were about to be dashed, the St. Louis Cardinals instead made those dreams come true by selecting him with the final pick of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft on Saturday.
A senior at Division II Ouachita Baptist University, Ward was watching television when he heard his name called from another room as the 1,215th and final selection in the Draft. In being the last pick of the Draft, Ward also earned the distinction of becoming the 16th recipient of the annual MLB.com Don't Count Him Out Award.
"When it got towards the end I was kind of thinking, 'Well, I guess I'll try to sign a free-agent contract,'" Ward said. "I was happy with whatever opportunity I got, but then when I heard my name pop up at the very end, I was definitely excited. It was such a great moment."
Ward, who went 10-4 with seven complete games and four shutouts this year, received The Natural award -- given to the best Arkansan collegiate baseball player within the state -- for the second straight season. He admitted that, while he had not given up on his dream as the remaining picks dwindled, it was hard to listen to name after name, other than his own, being called in the later rounds.
"Every time a new round came, I wasn't necessarily expecting anything, but I was hopeful -- and that includes that last round," Ward said. "All that matters is that I get to pursue my dream, whether it's as the first pick or the last pick of the Draft."
Unlike the past couple recipients of the Don't Count Him Out Award, Ward plans to pursue that dream as soon as possible. Each of the last two recipients, Shaun Anderson (2013) and Eric Hanhold (2012), both enrolled at the University of Florida instead of trying to sign with the respective team that drafted each player.
Being a senior at Division II Ouachita Baptist, that's obviously not the path Ward plans to take. He hopes to quickly work out a deal with the Cardinals and embark on the next phase of his career.
Making the day all the sweeter for Ward is the fact that Ouachita Baptist teammate Keegan Ghidotti was taken in the 38th round by the Orioles, marking the first time in the program's history that the school has had multiple players drafted in one year, according to head coach Jeremy Haworth.
"When he got drafted, I was super pumped for him," Ward said. "It's great for our program and great for him. He's a good person to go through this whole process with."
Though Ghidotti, also a right-hander, had a long wait of his own on Saturday, he didn't have to sweat it out quite as much as Ward.
"I kind of went into today knowing they were both going to get picked, but I didn't think it would come down to the very last pick of the Draft," said Haworth, who was following the Draft as best he could while at a family gathering on Saturday. "I don't think it really mattered to Davis when he was going to get picked, though. I think he's just happy to get an opportunity to play pro ball and show what he's got."
Ward echoed those thoughts, saying he was just hoping to hear his name announced at some point this weekend, regardless of when it came or which team selected him. So even though Ward had to sit through hearing 1,214 other names before his own, the weekend had a perfect ending for the two-time Great American Conference Pitcher of the Year.
"Every little kid grows up wanting to play professional baseball," Ward said, "and now I get that chance. I couldn't be happier or more thankful."