The Orioles’ signing of a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic this week got me thinking about my missed opportunity. I blame it on Doc Edwards.
To be honest, Edwards couldn’t have been kinder to me. In 1964, after he caught a Saturday afternoon game against the Orioles for the Kansas City A’s, Edwards came to our house and sat at our dining room table. He had been in the navy with my uncle, Gene Fischbach. Edwards was a medic, which is how he got his nickname.
I remember the excitement of going to that game at Memorial Stadium. My dad and Uncle Gene took me, and we waited afterward for Edwards, who had gone 0-for-4 on a hot August day. He cheered up, however, when he saw my Uncle Gene — two friends happy to have the time to get reacquainted.
How they arrived at the decision to come to our house off Liberty Road near Randallstown, I’m not sure. But I am certain that I wanted to show off my right arm to a major league catcher.
So, I asked if he would catch me in the backyard. Maybe in a little while, I was told … Uncle Gene and Doc Edwards have a different kind of catching up to do. It was thrilling to be in the same room with a professional ballplayer. Edwards was 6 feet 2, handsome, and looked every bit the part of a major leaguer. He and Uncle Gene started talking about their days in the navy.
I tried to be patient, thinking we could keep the throwing session short because I knew he was going to be impressed right away by my arm strength. But there was more ice tea to drink, more food to eat and more stories to share. Uncle Gene and Doc Edwards had been close and everyone, including my dad, mom and my mom’s sister, Aunt Ducy, were enjoying the conversation. Edwards was enjoying a rare visit to someone’s home while on the road before returning to the team hotel.
I went to my room and got my glove, and started to tap the pocket with a baseball. I wasn’t going to use the one Edwards signed for me, but I thought he might need a subtle hint.
Before long, Edwards looked at his watch. It was time to go. We would play catch the next time. I tried not to show my disappointment as I shook his hand. Uncle Gene drove him back to his hotel.
Those details came back to me Monday night when Andy Knobel, a longtime friend from The Sun, sent me a message that Edwards had died at age 81. Andy remembered that I had been fond of Edwards. He liked him, too.
“Doc was the most accommodating manager in the International League in the mid-1980s when I worked in Syracuse and he was with the Maine Guides, and he was just as generous with his time and thoughts when I covered an Orioles-Indians game a few years later down here,” Andy said.
Edwards spent 57 years in baseball, including nearly three as manager of the Cleveland Indians. His last nine were spent with the San Angelo (Texas) Colts.
“He was one of the most respected men in the game, and it was an honor to go to work every day with Doc,” said Mike Babcock, San Angelo Colts general manager from 2006-12. “He was always a guy that put his players first, and not only his players but my media guys and all the lives he touched through managing. He was one of the nicest guys I had the pleasure to work with.”
“He did a lot in the game. He played with Mickey Mantle. He coached in the big leagues. He was in baseball for 57 years. Not many people can say that. He was a true baseball lifer, and he was a great one.”
And, he had spent time with my family. I might have realized how special it was then had I not been focused on wanting to impress him with my arm. As an almost 13-year-old, I had big dreams.
Reality set in later. Along with a deep appreciation for a major league baseball player who was content to spend part of his Saturday sitting at our dining room table.
Editor’s Note: When we started Calling the Pen, I was excited to have a place where we could share stories about baseball. I was reminded this week how important it is to write those stories. I called Aunt Ducy and Uncle Gene to tell them that Doc Edwards had died. Aunt Ducy said that Edwards and my Uncle Gene “brought out the best in each other.” She recalled the occasion at the house, but the details have faded. It made me wonder about letting our stories slip away. Let’s try to encourage one another so that it doesn’t happen.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.
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