Born to be a baseball player

Kingsley Collins

17 June 2018

 

Taken in the eighth round of the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft, then nineteen year-old Victorian John Edwards embarked upon a professional baseball career that included Minor League stints with Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies - variously as an outfielder, a catcher and a relief pitcher.

 

Fast-forward twenty years and another Edwards – John’s son Mitchell Edwards – has inked a professional deal with Philadelphia Phillies after commanding intense attention from college interests and MLB scouts, including iconic Howie Norsetter, now working for the Phillies after an effective lifetime with the Twins.

 

More recently gaining exposure through his involvement with the World Select teams, through club baseball in Victoria and in Canberra – including game time with Canberra Cavalry and Sydney Blue Sox in the ABL - Mitchell will head to United States in the next few months.

 

His recent signing to Major League organisation makes Mitchell Edwards the most recent of three generations of immediate family members who have distinguished themselves at high levels in the sport.    

 

Himself a former top-line player who represented Australia at senior level against a Japanese touring team nearly forty years ago, Russell Edwards – Mitchell’s grandfather – believes there may only be two other instances in our sporting history where an Australian father/son combination played Minor League baseball.

 

“Phil Dale and his boys would be the more obvious ones,” Russell Edwards told Australian Baseball Alumni “And there would be Gary and Mitch Nilsson. Bob Nilsson and his son both signed contracts, but Bob never played over there.”

 

“So as far as I am aware, John and Mitch – when he suits up for the Phillies - will be just the third father/son combination to play pro ball in United States.”

 

Mitchell Edwards, it appears, was born to be a baseball player.

 

His dad John, and grandfather Russell, are both Life Members of arguably Australia's strongest baseball club in Essendon – a northern Melbourne suburban club - and it would seem only a matter of time until John joins Russell in the club's prestigious Hall Of Fame.

At the tender age of six, Mitch began playing T-Ball at Essendon and he assumed the important position of First Nine bat boy, wearing Bomber colours for the next six years. He may well still have been at the club today if not for his father John being obliged to leave Essendon in order to begin his coaching career with Fitzroy in the Baseball Victoria Summer League.

John Edwards recalls – with a degree of retrospective fondness, we expect – some of Mitchell’s antics as bat boy with the Bombers.

 

“He probably holds the record for being the only bat boy ejected from a Division One firsts game in Victoria,” John Edwards confided. 

 

“In a game between Essendon and Blackburn, Cam Hardy picked off (2004 Olympian) Brett Tamburrino, leading to a run-down. The ball was dropped and Cam and Tambo ended up in a minor push and shove. Benches emptied in a pretty tame, token manner, nothing too exciting in it.”

 

“Daniel Mack (Blackburn) and I were cuddling each other in the middle of the pack when I look down and there is seven year-old Mitch roaming around and occasionally kicking people in the shins,” father John recalls.

 

“I grabbed him and asked what the hell he was doing. He said everyone else ran out, so he did too. It was fun, he said! Then he wanted to know why I didn’t take my bat out to hit people. The umpire saw him out there and said he had to leave the bench for the rest of the game.”

 

“He was regarded as the worst bat boy ever while I was playing,” John Edwards said. “He would pick up bats when he wanted to, he would wander off and come back with hot dogs and chocolates and eat them on the bench while players picked up their own bats. He would run out and try to warm up the pitcher between innings - when he was only eight years old.”

 

“He was a pest.”

 

“Most games my mum and dad (Robyn and Russell) were there to keep an eye on him, but sometimes it was just me and him and I would be trying to play or coach and keep an eye on this fearless little monster at the same time,” John recalls. “I was often trying to put on signs and also yelling at him for whatever he was up to.”

 

“One big mistake was at Fitzroy - when Mitch discovered what a tab was and that the canteen there let the players have a tab during the game to fix up at the end of the day. Mitch felt he was entitled to one and started his own tab. It’s amazing how many hot dogs, pies, Mars bars, cokes, and lollies a kid can consume when they think it’s free! At the end of the day I was told I owed forty bucks.” 

 

“His nice little signing bonus wouldn’t put a dent in his canteen purchases over the years.”

 

“Then there was a time I broke a bat first up against Pugga (Adam Blackley) out at Waverley,” John Edwards said. “The barrel went flying and I was left with the handle and what looked like a very dangerous wood sword or spear. I tossed it near the trash and went out to field. Earlier in the day, Mitch wanted to climb the old score board in leftfield. I said no, fully knowing this was going to have little effect on him getting up there. Then as I’m out fielding I see him stroll down to the scoreboard – where there are already four or five older kids.” 

 

“Mitch wanted to get up on the scoreboard and they told him he couldn’t sit with them. An argument went on for a bit, then next thing I see is Mitch sprinting back to our dugout. He picks up the broken bat and goes sprinting back and begins swinging the stick at the kids who are now bailed up against the back of scoreboard as Mitch tries to cut them.” 

 

“Mum and dad were there, and I’m waving at them from the outfield trying to get their attention to go and grab Mitch. Dad eventually sees what’s going on, runs down and grabs him by the ear.”

From twelve to sixteen years of age, Mitch Edwards played with the Fitzroy, Waverley and Blackburn clubs in Victorian Summer League. He has more recently been playing winter baseball for Heathmont, swatting eight home runs in his past ten club games - including six from nine outings with the Penguins – an extraordinary strike rate that is not lost on grandfather Russell, who himself was a feared long ball hitter back in the day.

 

“The last year I played with the Melbourne Aces, Mitch was around the club house a lot,” John Edwards said. “He was probably twelve by this stage, so he was starting to really enjoy and take his baseball seriously. We had a great group of kids who would hang out with the players, take BP in the cage, shag balls, even sit on the bench at times. Along with Mitch there were Ryan Dale, Jarryd Dale, both Burke boys - Justin and Chris - and Matt Beattie use to be there from time to time as well.” 

 

“Four of them have now signed professionally and the other two aren’t far off it either. I think that environment was an instrumental part of their development,” he said.

 

“All they did was practise baseball or sell (and eat) snow cones.”

 

In 2015 Mitchell Edwards spent the summer holidays in Canberra playing club ball for the Weston Creek Indians and living with his grandparents before eventually relocating permanently to the nation's capital. He was able to join Baseball Canberra's High Performance Academy under the tutelage of Jeremy Barnes and he became bullpen catcher for the Canberra Cavalry.

 

He went on to represent the ACT at the National Under 18 Championships in 2016 and 2017.

At the start of the 2017/18 Australian Baseball League season it became clear that opportunities to catch with the Canberra Cavalry would be limited, and Mitch joined Tony Harris at the Sydney Blue Sox as a back-up catcher. That move proved particularly fortuitous when the team's starting catcher went down with injury early in the season and had to return to the United States - presenting Mitchell with the opportunity to be starting catcher for the rest of the season.

 

He started twenty games in total and led all Australian catchers in batting average by hitting an impressive .293.

Like his father John, who didn't make a state team until his final year in Under 18s, Mitchell Edwards has been a relatively slow developer - making his first National Championships as one of the last picked for Victoria White in the Under 14 Championship and then being picked in the White Team again for the Under 16 Championships.

 

After performing well with the Under 16 White Team, he was selected in the Australian Under 15 squad to compete at the World Championships in Mexico. He then became one of seven young men from that Australian team who went on to represent Australia in the 2017 Under 18 World Championships in Canada.

As further testament to his potential as a switch-hitting catcher, Mitch Edwards was a two-time member of the World Select Team that toured the United States in 2016 and 2017 - as guests of Major League Baseball - and he was selected on a MLB Spring Training Tour. All the while impressing baseball people with his developing skills, his attitude towards the game and his capacity to learn and to absorb knowledge from quality baseball people around him.

 

John Edwards believes that Mitch is a person who has benefited from the guidance and expertise of a wide range of people at club level during his formative years.

 

“Because of my work commitments, he and I have moved around a lot and played at a number of clubs,” John Edwards explained. “I think his development has been helped by the fact he has been exposed to so many knowledgeable baseball people at a number of clubs. At Essendon, Russ Spear and Adrian Kelly showed an early interest in him, at Fitzroy the Kings and Wilsons were a massive help to him, at Waverley there was Clarko, Dave Johnstone, Burkey, Phil, Gassner and Nicksy who were all fantastic.”

 

“At Heathmont - where he has probably spent the most time – there have been second to none quality guys there like Dingle, Mack, Hendricks, Tayler, Gourlay, Ayres, Nicholas, Marveggio, Harman, Craven and more. They have taught him so much and have instilled in him a real love for the game and the contest.”

 

“Cheltenham and Blackburn are two other Victorian clubs that contributed to his growth,” Edwards said. “He didn’t play at Cheltenham, but the guys used to let him throw with them and be the bullpen catcher when he was young. He only got to play a couple of games with Blackburn before moving to Canberra, but they took him under their wing – including the likes of Dave Tierney, who gave up his time and came down to throw BP for a recent showcase Mitch had to do.” 

 

“Any successes he has enjoyed or will enjoy I think have strongly been influenced by Victorian club ball. When we moved to Canberra, the Weston Creek Indians and Canberra Cavalry continued to help with his progress – especially Jason and Aaron Sloan, Hayden Beard and the Perkins brothers, who all helped improve him as a player.” 

 

But his real coming of age, the proud father believes, was quality game time that Mitch Edwards spent with Sydney Blue Sox last ABL season.

 

“That organisation and its coaching staff – particularly Tony Harris – turned Mitch from being a good youth player to a good men’s player, basically developing him from a college kid to a professional prospect.”

 

John Edwards believes that the Baseball Australia MLB trips and college showcase trips have proven invaluable to our young prospects, including Mitch.

 

“Glenn Williams has been at the forefront of those trips and of getting Major League Baseball involved in them,” he said. “For our top players to be able to go over there and perform in front of college and pro scouts is a great initiative. I have no doubt that these trips solidified Mitchell’s desire to play Major League baseball. Glenn has done just an outstanding job getting Mitch and other young Australians the exposure they need. I thank him for that.”

 

As a person who has first-hand knowledge of the professional baseball system – and of the work, effort and challenges facing his son - John Edwards believes that Mitchell’s story is a real life lesson that should serve as motivation for all aspiring young baseball players.

 

“When Mitch started, he was the smallest and slowest kid getting around - with no real natural athletic ability,” John Edwards said. “But what he did have was attitude and a massive work ethic.  Through sheer will power he has made himself into a good ball player. Nothing has been gifted to him. He is a ferocious competitor, he is a hard-nosed tough kid who doesn’t know how to take a backward step - as shown by some instances in last year’s ABL.” 

 

“He has the intangible tools that can’t be taught – ones that are invaluable to becoming a successful player.”

 

With baseball a serious focus in the lives of both his father and grandfather, it may have been inevitable that Mitchell Edwards would relate to their engagement and inherit an attachment to our great team sport.

 

“Baseball has always been on my mind,” Mitch Edwards told us, indicating in some detail his already displayed work ethic and the commitment that we trust will enable him to achieve his full potential in the sport.

 

“I’ve always had the goal of being a Major League baseball player and it’s exciting to know that I have taken one albeit small step towards my goal,” he said. “I have always played baseball, but it was at the age of thirteen - when my father opened a baseball training facility - that I took my commitment to the game to another level.”

 

“I used the Iron Mikes and I hit for ages. Each bucket had around 400 balls in it and I would finish a couple of them on a daily basis. The worst part about hitting 800 balls is that you have to pick 800 balls up. So the process of picking them up took three times as long as it did to hit them.”

“I hit, I threw, I lifted weights and ran - and I turned myself from an average player to the next level,” he said. “My grandfather and my father facilitated that more than anyone – and I’m surprised my father and grandfather’s arms haven’t fallen off after the countless number of balls thrown at me.”

 

“Another person who has contributed to my baseball in a big way – and to myself as a person off the field – is my grandmother. She’s done everything for me - and although she can’t throw BP or anything like that, she’s still been a major contributor to my success and she deserves a big shout out.”

 

Continuing to help out the Heathmont Penguins club in Melbourne Winter League for as long as he is able in winter season 2018, Mitchell Edwards is expected to take up his professional career with Philadelphia Phillies – in the Gulf Coast League - sometime during August.

 

Australian Baseball Alumni committee and members wish Mitch Edwards all the very best in his professional career. We will certainly be following his progress with interest – as of course will many others, including his family, who are justifiably bursting with pride with the young man’s development.

 

“As a father it’s great to see your son get the chance to live and work towards his dream,” John Edwards said. “I’m just so grateful to so many people from a range of clubs and high performance programs who have helped him earn this opportunity.”

 

“He is a real example of an Australian baseball product.”

In his early days, pictured with the late Chris Lane

With Sydney Blue Sox

 

Mitch Edwards behind the mask