The State College Spikes ended their 2019 season with an anti-climactic final weekend, finishing three games over .500 and missing out on the New York-Penn League playoffs. External factors added to the ho-hum ending as the Spikes were overshadowed by Penn State’s 79-7 football win over Idaho and overshowered by a rainstorm that produced the ultimate downer—a season-ending tie.
But even as State College’s players dealt with disappointment, an alum from the Spikes’ 2016 team was up to his eyeballs in the thrilling pursuit of a World Series title.
Tommy Edman, the most recent Spikes alum to reach the major leagues, is playing a key role with the resurgent St. Louis Cardinals. When he joined the team as a wide-eyed rookie on June 8, the Redbirds were 5.5 games behind the Cubs and the Brewers. Today, the Cards are leading the Central Division of the National League.
Of course, the Cardinals’ turnaround isn’t just about Edman, but he’s done his share—hitting .280 with surprising power, stealing 11 bases in 12 attempts and bringing his Stanford smarts and his youthful spark to the team.
An everyday shortstop at Stanford University and with the Spikes, Tommy has played almost everywhere except shortstop for the Cardinals—third base, second base and all three outfield spots. Regardless of where he plays, he’s now a fixture in the lineup. Manager Mike Shildt told Fox Sports Midwest in mid-August that Edman had “more than earned his opportunity to get out there and play every day.”
And it all started in State College, at least as far as Tommy’s pro career is concerned. Here in Happy Valley, he was the beneficiary of excellent facilities, great coaching and a personal touch that most Spikes’ fans never realized….
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Raised near San Diego, Edman might have felt homesick while playing in the New York-Penn League. But he didn’t. Of course, you wouldn’t think a California kid would have family members in little ol’ State College. But he did.
Keith and Jody Maurer have lived in State College for 22 of the last 33 years. Keith serves as a pastor of State College Evangelical Free Church, which happens to be my church home; Jody is one of the four sisters of Tommy’s father, John.
Everyone in the family was thrilled that the 2016 Cardinals’ draftee was bound for Happy Valley—Keith and Jody, their three grown kids (Nicolle, Chris and Dani), Tommy himself and Tommy’s parents. Says his dad, who was also his high school coach, “I thought it was a God thing. How could it be better?”
The Maurers had been casual fans of the Spikes, but suddenly they weren’t so casual. “We had followed the Spikes before,” says Keith, “but obviously that summer we were way more interested. And Tommy would come to church when he was in town on a Sunday, so he had quite a following of people from the church who would go to games and cheer him on.”
To this day, I enjoy asking Jody one special question prior to a church service: “What’s Tommy’s batting average?” And she always answers correctly, right on the nose. Meanwhile, her kid brother (John is 14 years younger) is tickled by Jody’s enthusiasm. He knows she’s still a rookie as a baseball fan but an all-star as an aunt.
Keith and Jody Maurer led the cheers for their nephew during his season with the Spikes. (Photo by Bill Horlacher)
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Just as State College was good for Tommy Edman, so was Tommy Edman good for the State College Spikes. He brought an excellent baseball background with him, having made the All-Pac 12 team in his last year at Stanford. And he also brought personal maturity to the Spikes’ clubhouse.
“He always had a smile on his face,” says Stacy Sublett, the team’s chaplain since its founding in 2006. “No matter what happened on the field, he was able to have the maturity to say, ‘That matters, but that doesn’t define who I am.’ “
Joe Putnam, who broadcasts Spikes’ games along with Steve Jones, points to Tommy as a key element in the 2016 team’s success. “He’s not the loudest guy in the room,” notes Putnam, “but I would say his presence really drove the Spikes. He and Jeremy Martinez (a catcher from the University of Southern California), they were the guys who drove everybody else to succeed. That allowed the Spikes to capture 50 wins, the most we’ve ever had in a season, and to win the New York-Penn League championship.”
But according to Putnam, there’s more to Edman than the “quiet leadership” that he showed in State College. “He’s a smart guy, he’s a fun guy (Tommy loves to watch “The Office” on TV) and he’s going to work his butt off. I believe he led the (NY-Penn) league in hits and runs scored. And now he’s getting key hits when the Cardinals need them.
“I think he has a lot of success in his future. Speaking for Steve and myself, we’re very happy for Tommy.”
Having talked to Edman’s parents, his aunt and uncle, a broadcaster and a chaplain, I decided one more person should offer some input, and so I caught up Tommy himself. Here are edited portions of our phone conversation on Labor Day.
I’d like to start at the beginning of your pro career. What was your initial reaction when you heard you were drafted by the Cardinals?
Edman: One of the Cardinal scouts texted me that day, and I was pretty excited when he said they were going to take me in the sixth round. So I was very excited just to be drafted, plus to be in such a good organization.
As soon as you heard “Cardinals,” were you able to put it together—that you were probably going to State College?
Edman: Once I got drafted by the Cardinals, I went to look at all the affiliates to try to figure out where I was going to be placed. I thought State College was one of the options and that was hilarious that I already had some family there.
When I mentioned that to your dad, he said it was a “God thing.”
Edman: Yeah, absolutely. To get a chance for my dad to go out there…both my parents…to meet up with some family they hadn’t seen in a while. So I think it was very cool to have that opportunity to bond over a little baseball.
You were a California kid, but you’ve got an aunt and uncle who live five miles from your new ballpark in Pennsylvania. That's pretty bizarre…
Edman: Yeah, it was awesome. To be able to have them come out to a bunch of games was pretty special. And I got to hang out with them and have a few meals with them. Obviously, I went to their church with them and it was just cool to get that whole summer of hanging out.
I understand you had a wonderful living arrangement with your host family in State College.
Edman: Yeah, they were awesome. The Snyders (Jeremy and Kelli) took in four of us, four Spikes which is a lot to deal with. But they had a nice basement, super nice like a man cave. I actually got to see them when we played in Pittsburgh about a month ago.
Just the parents?
Edman: Both parents and all four of their girls.
How was that summer for your spiritual growth?
Edman: Oh, it was great. I mean, Stacy Sublett was awesome. I didn’t know what to expect going into that summer, but obviously I got introduced to the Baseball Chapel program which I’m still part of today. That’s been vital for my career because with the games we play on Sundays, it’s pretty much impossible for me to go to church. And to get fed spiritually in the midst of a season is extremely important.
But here in State College, I saw you at church quite often. Somehow you were able to work it out...
Edman: I think it might've been that there were more night games in State College on Sundays and we might have had some off days mixed in there. Sunday day games are tough because our report time is around like 9 or 9:30 a.m.
So let’s fast forward to some questions about your time with the Cardinals. How did you feel when you walked into Wrigley Field in Chicago—of all places—for your first big league game?
Edman: It was a surreal experience. I mean being called up to the major leagues is pretty much what I had dreamed about for my whole life. And then to get the chance to do that at Wrigley, one of the most historic ballparks in all of baseball. My heart was beating fast as I’m walking into the clubhouse…It was a little bit of a whirlwind. There was a lot of stuff I had to get done when I first got there. Like signing the contract, talking to the coaches and getting all the signs and everything.
How about putting on that Cardinals’ uniform?
Edman: Yeah, to be able to wear the official birds-on-the bat, that was a very special experience. It’s really something, just being with an organization that has so much history and takes so much pride in how they perform on the field and the character they display.
How do you feel about being in the midst of a race toward the playoffs?
Edman: Obviously, it’s a lot of fun when you’re playing well and winning a lot of ball games. We’ve had great starting pitching, our bullpen has been shut-down great and our offense has really started to click. I think the vibes in the clubhouse and the dugout are really good. We had a couple of big comeback wins last weekend, back-to-back walkoffs.
Even in the midst of a dream season like this, I know there’s been at least one disappointment—postponing your wedding.
Edman: When we first got engaged (in December), it was originally planned to be in October. But once I got the call-up and there was the potential for us to go to playoffs, I started to think, “Hey, maybe we’re going to have to get this changed in case we go to playoffs and I'm not able to go to my own wedding!” So there was a sacrifice made by my fiancée and her family, which I really appreciate. We ended up settling on November, after the World Series is over. So that’ll give us the chance to win the World Series and then I’ll get married a couple weeks later.
Can you talk a little about your fiancée. Her name, how you met her…
Edman: Her name is Kristen Shiotani, and she’s also from San Diego. We met through a mutual friend. One of my Stanford teammates was family friends with her while growing up. His parents and her parents were in the same Bible study group, so they had known each other since they were in diapers and grew up as really good friends.
Here’s my last question. Do you have a clearly developed goal in your mind for what you want to accomplish as a major league ballplayer?
Edman: Obviously, as a baseball player, your goal is to win the World Series. But I think for me, my goal is to be able to use the platform that I have to impact as many people as I can. It’s important for me as a Christian to be able to spread the word of God as much as I can. And I think it's great to be in an organization like the Cardinals where we have a lot of players whose faith is really strong. It's definitely easier when you have a bunch of guys surrounding you who are leading the same kind of life and have the same goal.
Enjoying a 2016 visit to State College are, from left, Tommy’s mom, Maureen; Tommy; his sister Elise (a volleyball player at Davidson College) and his dad, John. (Photo provided by Edman family)