UF Baseball: Late Former Gators Infielder Beaird Has a Permanent Place in Visiting Bullpen at Florida Ballpark
Courtesy of UF Athletic Association
In the eulogy he delivered at Jason Beaird’s memorial service, Ted Rich recalled seeing his former Gators teammate and later Orlando roommate truly mad just once in their nearly 25 years of friendship.
It left an impression and provided the duo with some good laughs over the years. The moment was so uncharacteristic because of the way Beaird lived his life and treated others. He was kind, full of friendly zest, hard-working, and could crack up a room with his witty sense of humor.
“The kind of guy the world needs more of, not less of,” Rich said this week. “As solid of a guy as you can imagine. One of the guys who should have lived to 100, not be taken in his 40s.”
A walk-on middle infielder from Clearwater who joined the Gators in the fall of 1988, Beaird ended his career as a two-time letterwinner and member of the All-Southeastern Conference academic honor roll. Prior to his death from multiple myeloma in March 2013 at the age of 42, Beaird made his greatest impact as a husband to wife, Jennifer, and father to son, Aaron, and daughter, Shannon.
As the one-year anniversary of his death approached, Beaird’s large network of friends, co-workers, and family asked Jennifer what she had planned to honor Jason’s memory. Jennifer and Jason met as fifth-year UF students studying for their master’s degrees in accounting. They married in 1995 and settled in Orlando. The couple moved to Ireland from 2002 to 2004 for Jason’s job and developed an affinity for all things Irish.
As a result, the first Shamrock & Shenanigans event was held in March 2014, and from there, the Jason Beaird Memorial Foundation was founded to keep Jason’s spirit alive. Since its creation, the JBMF has provided scholarship money to college-bound students who have experienced hardship and donated to charitable causes such as the Ronald McDonald House and New Hope Center for Kids, a Central Florida organization that supports children and families grieving the loss of a loved one.
In recognition of a major gift from the JBMF to the University Athletic Association, the visiting bullpen of Florida Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field will be known as Jason Beaird Memorial Bullpen. The Gators are set to play their first season in the new ballpark in 2021. In addition to attaching Jason’s name to the bullpen, Jennifer and Rich are in the process of naming lockers in the team’s new clubhouse after the former UF teammates.
Jennifer and Jason met after his UF baseball career was finished, but his passion for UF and the Gators never wavered through marriage, job changes, kids, and his illness.
“We are super excited to do that,” said Jennifer, one of nine members of the JBMF Board of Directors. “I didn’t even really know him when he played baseball. It was always important to him. He would go up to alumni events. It’s great we can honor him this way.”
Jason stayed close to the game by coaching Little League once Aaron began to play, and it was not unusual for the family to take in a game on vacations, including at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Jason mixed his humor and passion for the Gators on a personal blog he maintained during his illness.
His ex-teammate Rich is thankful Beaird’s legacy has a permanent home with the UF baseball program. A year ahead of Beaird when they were teammates, both were walk-on infielders who carved out roles on the team.
“We hadn’t planned this at all,” said Rich, also a JBMF board member. “The foundation’s intent was to support the causes that were important to him. That was youth sports, education, and the Gators. They just all came together with the stadium. We never in a million years dreamed that was going to be part of what we were going to do. The timing just worked out amazingly well.”
The friendship between Beaird and Rich blossomed with the Gators and continued when both relocated to Orlando after college. They became roommates for a time prior to Jason and Jennifer marrying and spent countless hours together on the golf course and boating on Lake Conway.
Rich now lives in Colorado and Beaird is gone, but their connection remains strong.
“He was just a solid guy,” Rich said. “He’s the kind of person everybody wants their son to grow up to be. A good father, a good husband, an excellent worker, a fantastic friend. He was just a great all-around guy in every facet of life.”
Jennifer wants those who never met Jason to know he was a good husband and caring father, someone who stood for the right values and never let the disease that took his life take away his spirit to live.
The kind of person that made a difference.
“He never gave up on things,” she said. “He was a competitor until the end. A Gator through and through for sure.”