Edmonds' emotional journey hits Fan Cave
Fan favorite to throw out first pitch before Game 4 at Busch
NEW YORK -- Jim Edmonds will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night at Busch Stadium. And for a guy who has been "laying low, trying to relax and stay away from the game," it just might prove to be one of the most moving scenes of this postseason in St. Louis.
Edmonds played for all but two of the NL Central's teams in his 17-year Major League career, yet his bond with the Cardinals remains strong. He lives in St. Louis, where he is busy parenting and trying to perfect a right-handed golf swing, and he is rooting for the Redbirds in the NLCS against a Milwaukee franchise he played for last year.
"I don't think the National League can go wrong with either of those two representatives, but obviously I'm pulling for the Cardinals," Edmonds said. "It's going to be exciting either way.
"Playing in the postseason is so special. It took me seven or eight years to get there, and when I got there, it was everything I thought it would be. The excitement and the fans were just second to none. It's quite a dream come true. It definitely makes the season worth it, to be able to get on that stage."
On Tuesday, in the first full year of retirement, Edmonds took part in a morning-to-night whistlestop media tour as part of MLB's ongoing "Legends Are Born in October" postseason campaign. His day finished at the MLB Fan Cave, where he taped an upcoming TBS spot to air during the NLCS and watched part of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series between the Tigers and Rangers.
Edmonds, 41, was on the postseason stage in seven of his seasons, leaving behind indelible memories -- especially to Cardinals fans. When he throws Thursday's first pitch, many of them will flash back to the 2004 NLCS, when in a 24-hour span he slugged a 12th-inning walk-off homer to force Game 7, then made a miraculous diving catch on a Brad Ausmus liner that kept the game close and made it possible for the Cards' trip to the World Series to happen.
And, of course, there will be the memory of a 2006 victory parade through Market Street and into Busch Stadium, the culmination of a perfect inaugural season for the ballpark.
When Edmonds throws that first pitch, many fans will picture him waving from one of those parade trucks. Many times on Tuesday he was asked to compare that team with the gutsy club that dispatched Philadelphia and now sends Chris Carpenter to start Game 3 with the series tied at a game apiece.
"I'm not around it day in and day out like I was, so it's hard to compare teams," Edmonds said. "The one comparison you can make is getting into the playoffs and playing well, being healthy and getting hot at the right time. Hopefully that will work for them."
Talking about some of the toughest postseason pitchers he ever faced -- Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson being the first two that came to mind -- Edmonds cautioned that every day is new, and a Carpenter-Yovani Gallardo matchup is anyone's game.
"Any given night, any pitcher that's on his game can give you fits," he said. "Any given night, a guy can be having a bad day and the ball looks like a beach ball. So it's different night to night. Some of the big names you obviously have to worry about, but when you get to the game, everything changes, and you just sort of block it all out."
It was poignant to see Edmonds at the Fan Cave, standing at the base of the giant orange papier mâché statue of Willie Mays. So many players have come through here over the course of the season, posing for a picture next to Willie, in the pose of his famous 1954 World Series catch. And if the Say Hey Kid leads the class, then Edmonds, an eight-time Gold Glover, surely has a place in it, among the best center fielders of all time.
It also reminds us of what the veteran umpire Dave Phillips told the Kansas City Star when asked about a 1997 catch Edmonds made at Kauffman Stadium, turning his back to home plate, running toward the wall, laying out flat and catching a ball on the warning track.
"That was one of the greatest plays ever," Phillips said. "That made Willie Mays' play look routine."
Edmonds was asked on Tuesday to name his two favorite plays, and he cited those of 1997 and 2004.
During the TBS spot, MLB Dream Job winner Mike O'Hara, who watched 2,429 games at the Fan Cave this season, asks Edmonds which player has turned in his favorite defensive gem this postseason. Edmonds goes with Curtis Granderson's catch in Game 4 of the ALDS between the Yankees and Tigers.
"Any time you leave your feet," he says, "it's an extra degree of difficulty."
Having played with both Albert Pujols of the Cardinals and Ryan Braun of the Brewers, Edmonds was asked which superstar is the bigger threat.
"I really don't think it's fair to compare one to the other. They're both different-style hitters," he said. "Either one, you make a mistake and you're going to lose the baseball and give up some runs. But they both can be pitched to. The key to either one is to see which one is going to be more patient. I think Albert's a little bit of a better hitter, but they're both as dangerous as can be."
Edmonds did everything he could to coax more baseball out of that 17-year career, finally leaving it to others when the end came during the last Spring Training back with St. Louis. He follows the game to a far lesser degree, paying just enough attention to know that his offseason workout buddy David Freese is coming into his own on this stage, nearly four years after they were traded for each other in a deal that sent Edmonds to San Diego.
"It's been peaceful, actually," Edmonds said of retired life. "No traveling, no running around chasing my tail. It's been nice to be able to sit back and actually watch games on TV and not have to worry about picking up my stuff and taking off. I miss the game a little bit, miss the competition, but it's definitely fun to watch on the outside."
Two years ago, Edmonds took up golf. It was something he had tinkered with as a boy, when he hit from the right side because his father had just two clubs, both for righties, and would take him a couple times a year to the driving range. Edmonds' handicap was 20 last year, now it is down to 11. Believe it or not, he still plays right-handed on the links, "so that's a little bit of a challenge. I'm working on it. Depends on if the wind blows or not."
On Thursday night, Edmonds will be on a ball field one more time. There will be applause. There will be emotions. Then Game 4 will go on, with Rafael Furcal wearing No. 15 instead of him, and Edmonds will walk away one more time, enjoying the excitement of a series, purely as a fan and a St. Louisan. He has no desire to get into coaching. He is "healing up from an Achilles surgery" and content to watch as Pujols gradually shoves aside some of his own club postseason records.
"There are a lot of opportunities out there to do stuff, but traveling and being part of a traveling sideshow again is not what I'm looking for right now," Edmonds said, talking and simultaneously glancing over at the ALCS game on one of the many screens inside the Fan Cave. "I'm just trying to slow down a little bit and be a dad."