In 1988, I was 14 years old and avidly collecting baseball cards for about 5 years. I would do chores and pick up odd jobs around the neighborhood to get spending money that I would promptly spend on packs of baseball cards. I loved opening packs of cards. I still do. But I digress.....It's 1988 and I'm opening as many packs of cards as I can. I always loved pulling cards of the new rookies in every set. In 1988, the rookie card for me was Jeff Ballard (pictured above). Fast forward to 1989. The Orioles are off to a hot start and Jeff Ballard if pitching great. So I decided to send one of his 1988 Topps rookie cards to him and ask him to sign it. Several weeks later an envelope is in the mail and....it's my card SIGNED BY JEFF BALLARD!!! I still have that card in my collection. In November 2014, I start what has become Signatures For Soldiers. I won't bore you with the story since you've heard it several times. Somewhere over the course of the past 6 years, I was able to connect with Jeff Ballard to ask if he would support Signatures For Soldiers by signing some cards. For several years now, Mr. Ballard has been a wonderful supporter, who I am truly blessed to have as a part of this effort. Mr. Ballard agreed to be my "test subject" for my newly created "Get To Know" segment where I hope to introduce you to the many players who are supporting Signatures For Soldiers. Thank you, Mr. Ballard, for being willing to take time to answer a few questions and for your ongoing support. I hope you all enjoy.....Getting to Know Jeff Ballard Jeff Ballard played college baseball for Stanford University where he had a storied career that included being named First Team All Pac-10 twice and leaving Stanford as the all-time leader in Wins, Strikeouts, and Innings Pitched. He also pitched for Team USA in 1984 in the Baseball World Cup, winning the Bronze Medal. Mr. Ballard graduated from Stanford with a degree in Geophysics and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 7th Round of the 1984 MLB Draft. Mr. Ballard pitched for the Baltimore Orioles from 1987 through 1991, winning a career high 18 games during the 1989 season. He also pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1993 through 1994 before retiring from baseball. SFS: You had quite a college career. What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Stanford University as a student-athlete? How did your experience at Stanford help prepare you for your baseball career and your life after retiring from baseball? Jeff Ballard: Life at Stanford was as good as it gets. Some of my closest friends were teammates or classmates at Stanford. I have so many great memories it would be hard to get them all down in writing but from a baseball standpoint, I am most proud of our team going to the College World Series 3 of my 4 years on the Farm. We never won the national championship but having the opportunity multiple times was very special.Playing baseball at Stanford was a key stepping stone to my pro success. The coaching at Stanford was excellent and the competition even better. During my years at Stanford, I got to play against Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Oddibe McDowell, and Mike Devereaux just to name a few. The PAC 12 (PAC 6 back in my days) provided incredible competition and to be able to compete against them gave me the confidence to be successful in pro baseball.
SFS: Your MLB debut occurred on May 9, 1987 when you started for the Orioles against the Chicago White Sox. Would you please talk about the days leading up to your debut? How/when did you find out about being called up to the Major Leagues? What thoughts/feelings did you experience when you found out? Please share any stories about this experience you’d like to share. Jeff Ballard: When you get called up to the Bigs for the first time there is usually not a lot of advanced notice. You show up to the park and BOOM!, next thing you know you’re heading to Baltimore or in my case Chicago to meet up with the team. I was obviously very excited to get an opportunity of a dream come true but I was also very nervous. When I was warming up in the bullpen my adrenaline was maxed. My first game didn’t go very well but I will always remember it. SFS: In 1989, you recorded a career high in wins with 18 while pitching for the Orioles. During this season, Frank Robinson was the manager of the Orioles. What are some of your favorite memories from that season? Jeff Ballard: The 1989 team was without a doubt the best team I was ever a part of and the best part about it was no one expected us to be any good. We were all very young except for Cal Ripken Jr. He was the anchor of the team and a tremendous teammate. I have lots of memories from that season but what really stands out is how we came together as a team and held on for the entire season. We never gave up and competed together all the way until the final weekend of the season when we ended up losing the division title to Toronto. That team was so fun to play on. SFS: You retired from baseball after the 1994 season. What have you been up to since your retirement from baseball? Jeff Ballard: I retired after the 1994 season mainly due to a terrible car accident in January of 1995. I broke my neck in the accident along with a few other injuries. Since I was going to have to miss the entire season in 1995, I made the decision it was time to move on to something else. My father and brother were the founders of an oil company in Billings called Ballard Petroleum Holdings LLC and they offered me a job. I received a geophysics degree from Stanford so I was always thinking I would fall back on my degree and upbringing when baseball finished. I am now a senior vice president and I am in charge of investor relations/communication, insurance, and risk management. It has been a special place to work since I started in 1996. SFS: You’ve been supporting Signatures For Soldiers efforts to raise money and awareness for Military Missions In Action for several years now. What was the draw for you to support our efforts? What has it meant to you personally to see the growth of Signatures For Soldiers and the growing amount of funds raised for MMIA? Jeff Ballard: I think Signatures for Soldiers is a great program started by Tim Virgilio. I 100% support our troops and I believe times are very challenging for those that are injured during their tours of duty. When Tim contacted me to see if I would support his program with some autographed baseball cards, it was an easy YES! for me. I wish him all the success in the world and I hope he keeps making a difference in our vets lives.
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Thank you again for your support. If you have specific questions or want to exchange ideas about how to support MMIA, please feel free to reach out to me.
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