SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners’ Carl Edwards found his way to MLB through the actual bush leagues

Apr 15, 2020, 12:55 PM

New Mariners reliever Carl Edwards was a player I was really interested to get to know in spring training.

Drayer’s picks: ‘All I saw was purple’ and ‘Field of Dreams’ connections

From doing research, I knew he had stories and fortunately he was willing to share them. Two of my favorites from a lengthy interview. First, how Edwards, who is listed at 6 foot 3 and 155 pounds and appropriately nicknamed the String Bean Slinger, was able to throw 95-plus. The other, his story of playing in the bush leagues and yes, that is a thing and in his mind should never be used as a insult.

We start at the beginning as he paints a beautiful picture of what baseball looked like where he is from.

“I grew up in Prosperity, South Carolina, a small town right outside of Columbia,” he said. “There are three towns where I am at. There is Prosperity, Pomeria and Little Mountain. I used to always tell people Prosperity was the hop, Pomeria the skip, Little Mountain the jump and now we are in Columbia, the capital.”

How small was Prosperity? Edwards has an equation to give you the picture.

“My spot in the draft, the round and the pick was one more than the whole population of Prosperity.”

You do the math. Edwards was a 48th rounder, the 1,464th player chosen in the 2011 draft. The odds were stacked against him and then some, but he had the support, the upbringing and the experience of growing up in that close-knit town town behind him, and much of that was rooted in baseball. His, dad, uncles and cousins all grew up playing the game, with an uncle and a cousin having been drafted before him. Former big leaguers Gookie Dawkins and Pokey Reese also came from the area.

“We’ve had the talent there, but it’s different coming from a town like that,” he said.

Edwards Jr. played high school and legion ball and, for a short time, travel ball as well. The baseball that had the most impact on him however came from community baseball, which was also known as the bush leagues. Each of the surrounding towns had a team, with Edwards’ dad, cousins and uncles playing for the Newberry Pirates, which he called his family team. Edward began pitching for the Pirates when he was 16 years old.

“I was the kid,” he said. “It was fun. There, you hear bush league, you think of stuff people say to you. That kind of rubs me the wrong way. It’s baseball, everyone is trying to win.”

Edwards painted the picture of what a Pirates game looked like in 2009, and for the most part still looks like.

“We played only on the weekends, it was packed,” he said. “The town would come and sit there, they knew all of us, everybody basically grew up around each other. It was just something for us African Americans. We would just get together on the weekend, there’s nothing like a good old baseball game. You’ve got fried chicken, you’ve got fish, whatever you need. They’ve got music playing. It was just a great experience. It actually made me fall in love with the game, just the experience there.”

The memories, rich. The bush league games a large part of Edwards foundation. Now fast forward two years. Edwards was set to go play college ball at Charleston Southern when tragedy struck. His best friend and his catcher, a fellow recruit, was killed in a car accident. With the loss of his friend his outlook and path changed. When he was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 48th round of the 2011 draft, he decided it was time to go.

“At the time, 48th round, what are my chances?” he remembered. “I told my dad, ‘I’m going to go play ball.’ How many people in the world get the opportunity to go, but turn it down? I’m going to leave, I’m going to go play ball and give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, I am not going to be able to say I got drafted but turned it down.”

A chance was a chance. An opportunity not to be turned down.

Edwards got off to a rocky start. In his first outing in spring training, he didn’t make it out of the first inning. His second game, he couldn’t get out of the second.

“OK man, I’m not doing this,” he told himself.

He grabbed a baseball and took it back to his hotel. He had a plan.

“I got pillows, put them up on my headboard, called and asked for more pillows, put them up on my headboard,” he said. “I did not leave the east coast to come to the west coast and do this. Failure is not an option. I am going to go out there and not care. I’m going to let it eat.”

And let it eat, he did. In his hotel room.

“I took a baseball and I would throw it hard as possible into the pillows. I was waking up, waking up, just throwing it constantly over and over,” he said.

He took the same mentality into his next appearance and saw his velocity jump. Edwards said he saw 96-97 mph and at that point he did not look back. It was just the beginning but he was on the right path. That path would be momentarily stalled as after spring training he was sent to instructional league rather than a minor league affiliate – he had his heart set on going to Spokane to play for the Rangers’ short-season Single-A affiliate – but he faced that adversity head on, giving up no runs, striking out 25 batters and walking just five in his next five outings. After that, he got the call.

“‘CJ, you are going to Spokane,'” he recalled with a smile. “I was on my way.”

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

More from Shannon’s Get To Know Your Mariners series

How Marco Gonzales ‘became a different guy’ on the mound in Seattle
Plenty to learn about the life of lefty reliever Taylor Guilbeau
• How Mariners C Austin Nola found the change he needed
• Patrick Wisdom has long history with Marco Gonzales
• Logan Gilbert’s swift rise up the Mariners’ ranks
• Dan Altavilla looking for healthy, productive 2020
• Cal Raleigh has been on the baseball path since Day 1
• Mariners OF Jake Fraley could be the gem of Zunino trade
• If anyone can relate to top Mariners prospects, it’s Taijuan Walker
• Julio Rodriguez looks the part of future superstar on and off the field

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Drayer: Mariners’ Carl Edwards found his way to MLB through the actual bush leagues