FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE) – The last few months have been special for Merced native Braiden Ward.

First, there was the news he would be reporting to Fresno to begin the season with the Fresno Grizzlies.

“It almost feels like I’m back like in high school,” said Ward at the Grizzlies Media Day on April 4.

And just like in high school at El Capitan in Merced, where as an upperclassman, he hit nearly .500 and averaged over a stolen base per game in helping the Gauchos nearly win a section championship, Ward is having both individual and team success with the first-place Grizzlies.

“Our pitchers are throwing strikes top-to-bottom, our hitters are hitting top-to-bottom,” said Ward, after the Grizzlies beat the Stockton Ports on Tuesday afternoon. “You know, we’re comfortable right now.”

Perhaps nobody has been more comfortable than Ward.

Entering Thursday, he had played in 36 games this season, and with the help of his blistering speed, was leading the eight-team California League in batting average (.364) and on-base percentage (.481), was second in stolen bases (23), and fifth in runs scored.

“I’m a guy who gets on base and causes havoc,” says Ward about his role with the Grizzlies, who had the best record in the league at 27-14 entering Thursday. “You know, I’m gonna steal, I’m gonna try to produce runs, and I’m gonna try to get in your head, whether I succeed or not.”

And in a little bit of a surprising development, he has also shown a little pop with the bat in his first year at the Low-A level, having already delivered four home runs. He only hit three homers in 174 games over his four years at the University of Washington.

“I’m not a power hitter, and for me to hit one, it’s gotta be perfect,” said Ward. “I’ve just been lucky I guess.”

‘Lucky’ is a good word to describe how Braiden’s mother Annette feels at this point.

She and her husband Alan still live in merced, which means they can regularly attend Braiden’s games at Chukchansi Park, and at some other home ballparks around the California League.

“A lot of these parents are traveling from Texas or Florida, just to come and watch them (Braiden’s teammates) for a couple of weeks, or for a week,” said Annette, while watching Wednesday night’s Grizzlies game from a seat along the first base line. “And he’s right next door, and I can just come watch him any time, so it’s just a blessing.”

And that hometown support extends beyond Braiden’s immediately family.

“Whether I’m in Visalia, or here (at Chukchansi Park) or Modesto, (I hear) ‘let’s go Braiden,’ or you got fans that come from the Valley, that come watch me, it’s nice to see hometown support,” says Braiden.

Even in high school, Ward’s speed around the bases already compared to some of the fastest in the game at any level.

That athleticism was passed down from mom and dad, who were both successful athletes at Atwater and Merced High Schools respectively.

And the athletic genes go back even further, as Braiden’s paternal grandfather Roy played minor league baseball, and don’t forget about his maternal grandmother Ramona.

“We (Alan and I) were both really quick growing up,” said Annette. “My mother (Ramona) was a track star when she was in high school, so I’m gonna give all the props to my mom.”

Of course, it takes more than just great speed to make it all the way to Major League Baseball, especially if you are a lower-round pick like Braiden, who went in the 16th round to the Colorado Rockies in last year’s MLB draft, after an impressive four-year career at Washington that included an appearance in the 2018 College World Series.

But Braiden says the Rockies organization does a really good job of “allowing everyone on our team to get a great opportunity to showcase who they are no matter what round (they were drafted in).”

And if you listen to mom, Braiden’s got something else working in his favor, as the son of a veteran Merced police officer.

“His dad has always been really calm under pressure and we just kind of, always taught him growing up, don’t sweat the small stuff,” said Annette. “Just get on and get over it, and move on to the next, cause there’s always gonna be another game, there’s always gonna be another play, there’s always gonna be another at-bat, so get over it and move on.”