Justin Lord began his illustrious career in baseball at the age of five in a park known as Optimist Park in Marianna. The twist to that is that a group of men saw a vision of Marianna athletes being provided a better place to play, took the bull by the horns and approached the city commission with their vision. Lord’s grandfather, J. D. Swearingen, was the Mayor of Marianna at the time. Three years later the complex was a reality, and is now commonly known as MERE.
Lord threw his first pitch when he was nine years old and moved into what is known as Dixie Youth Minors. He credits his dad, Buddy Lord, with his success on the mound. He said: “My dad taught me how to throw a changeup, and that gave me a chance to be a pitcher.” Lord was successful throughout his playing days at Optimist Park and had the distinction of being a pitcher on the 1992 Marianna Dixie Boys state championship team. The team repeated that feat in 1993 and went on to play in the Dixie Boys World Series both years.
At the end of his Optimist Park playing, Justin began on the junior varsity at Marianna High School in his freshman year. In his tenth-grade year, he earned a spot on the varsity squad, where he remained through his senior year and played in the state tournament in Tampa. In the fall of his senior year he was a pitcher on the Jacksonville All Stars State Team and was chosen to pitch in the Florida High School All Stars game. Following high school, he signed to play with Chipola College in 1998. He was a starting pitcher for the Chipola Indians in both his freshman and sophomore years. While at Chipola, he excelled in academics and earned a place on the Dean’s List all four semesters.
From Chipola Lord signed to continue his education and play baseball as a Florida State Seminole. A closer for the Seminoles, he recorded 11 saves his junior year. His academic success continued at FSU when he was named to the ACC Academic Team his junior year. During the summer following his junior year, Justin played in the Cape Cod Summer League in Hyannis, Massachusetts. His plans were to return to FSU for his senior season but while at the Cape he was signed as a non-drafted free agent with the Kansas City Royals. Lord was assigned to the Royals Spokane Indians short season Class A ball. While there he tore a ligament in his elbow resulting in Tommy John surgery and causing him to miss the next season for rehabilitation.
In 2003, he began in Burlington, Iowa in Low A ball but was moved to Wilmington, Delaware to High A during the season. Under the Rule 5 draft he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2003 and assigned to play in Lynchburg, Virginia and Hickory, North Carolina for the 2004 season; Hickory won its league championship that year. Problems developed with Lord’s pitching shoulder resulting in more surgery and, eventually, ended his tenure with Pittsburgh. Lord’s strength and commitment came through following his release as he returned to the practice field to regain his strength in his right arm and shoulder.
In 2005, Lord signed with the St. Paul Saints in the Independent Baseball League in St. Paul, Minnesota. He played with the Saints for three years, winning two division championships while there. Shoulder problems surfaced again causing Lord to hang up his glove as an active player. In 2011, he became the pitching coach for the Pensacola Pelicans, also a team from the Independent Baseball League. Under his tutelage, the Pelicans were division champions both years.
In 2013 hard work and dedication paid off for Justin. He was hired by the Baltimore Orioles as a pitching coach in their short season Class A ball. He remains with them today but has been moved to the Delmarva Shorebirds Class A. 2013 was also a big year for Justin academically as he completed his Master’s degree in Sports Psychology.
Lord’s typical day this year begins around noon when he starts his preparations for the day. He meets with his pitchers and assigns them to their various programs, supervises bullpens and their throwing programs. Justin says, “I am a very organized person so I know exactly what I’m doing for the day. I like the pitchers to know their routine, also.”
As far as his long-term goals, he says: “I’d love to be a pitching coach in the big leagues one day.” Justin gives his parents credit for his success early on, “My dad coached me and taught me the right way to pitch. My mom made sure I had everything I needed, got me to my practices and games and was in the stands at every game.” Justin married in 2003. He and Amy have one daughter, Abigail who will be eight in October. The family lives in Augusta, Georgia.
Small town America has many such stories of young people who choose to work hard, listen to instruction, and hone their skills toward being able to participate in their chosen careers. The world of baseball is an exciting one, but it is perhaps even more exciting to know that youngsters who choose to work hard, give their all, and live according to the principles on which they were reared, have unlimited opportunity regardless of their chosen field. Marianna is indeed fortunate to have had outstanding civic and business leaders truly interested in the youth of this area. They, along with volunteer and school coaches, make early recreational and later school teams possible. This is still true today when the whole community pulls together resources to serve these youth-oriented activities.