WASHINGTON – Justin Lord, nearly 20 years later, is eager to get back to Wilmington, Delaware.
But this time his role and Major League affiliation will be very different.
Lord made 13 appearances, with one start, as a pitcher for the Wilmington Blue Rocks in 2003, when the club was an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals in the high Single-A Carolina League.
Now, in a few weeks, Lord will head to Delaware to be the pitching coach for the Nationals’ farm team in the first season with Wilmington as a Washington affiliate.
“It is going to be neat to go back to Wilmington since I played there in 2003,” Lord said. “It is 18 years later; I had a great experience in Wilmington. It was a great fanbase. I enjoyed playing there every night. We always had good crowds and good energy in the stadium. The area has really grown up around the stadium. I am excited; I am really excited to get back to Wilmington.”
The manager for Wilmington will be Tommy Shields, the former Orioles and Cubs’ infielder who has been in player development for several years with Washington.
“I am definitely looking forward to it,” Lord told Federal Baseball from Florida. “I think I will have a good group of guys to work with. We will start spending more time together now that games have started. It gives us an opportunity to work together.”
“Any time you have an opportunity to work with a guy that has been in the game as long as he has, it is always a good experience I think,” Lord added of Shields, a native of Fairfax, Virginia who has been a minor league manager for several organizations. “It is going to be good working with Tommy and leaning on his experience in different situations he has been a part of over the years. It is always nice to have an experienced manager in the dugout.”
Lord, 41, pitched professionally from 2001-08 and also had a stint in the Carolina League with Lynchburg as a Pittsburgh affiliate in 2004.
The Alabama native, who pitched at Florida State, was the pitching coach for high Single-A Frederick in 2019 in the Baltimore system before joining the Nationals. He was to be the pitching coach for Single-A Fredericksburg last year before the pandemic wiped out the minor league campaign.
“It is exciting. It is exciting to finally get an opportunity with a new organization and have some new pitchers to work with that I have gotten to see in instructs and Spring Training,” Lord said.
Lord was part of Instructional League last fall in West Palm Beach then spent the winter at his home in Georgia. He went back to Florida for minor league spring training late last month.
“We had a call list; we had a group we stayed in touch with over the off-season,” Lord said.
“Each pitching coach had a group that he stayed in touch with. We conducted those calls and did some research here and there, whether it was video or mental skills or techniques, those sort of things, how to apply mental skills to our performance. I did some things in that area.”
One of the pitchers Lord has been around this month is Zachary Brzykcy, a non-drafted player out of Virginia Tech that the Nationals signed last year.
“I watched him a couple of times in the bullpen. He threw his first intrasquad today,” Lord said on Friday. “That was not on my field so I did not see that personally. But he did throw his first intrasquad today. He looks good; he is a strong kid with a good arm. More of the same that I saw in Instructional League last year. We are finally get a chance to see these guys in games. That is what we have been waiting on; to match them up with hitters and let them do their thing.”
“It is an energetic time for a lot of people, since it has been so long since we have been able to be on the field and do what we love to do,” Lord said.
While rosters have not been set, Wilmington is slated to begin the season May 4 at home against Aberdeen at Judy Johnson Field at Daniel S. Frawley Stadium.
Hall of Famer Johnson was a third baseman in the Negro Leagues who was born in Snow Hill, Maryland before moving to Delaware as a young boy.
The father of Tripp Keister, who will manage Double-A Harrisburg, was neighbors with Johnson in Wilmington for several years. Johnson died in Wilmington in 1989. There is a statue of him outside of the stadium where the new Nats’ farm team will play this year.