By Trey Williams
Not that he anticipated becoming the Science Hill baseball program’s all-time wins leader when he arrived from Austin Peay in 2008, but Ryan Edwards learned he’d have a chance to be successful – really fast.
“We had a left-hander named Rowdy Hardy who got to Triple-A with the Royals and a left-hander named Matt Reynolds who got to the big leagues with the Rockies and the Giants when I was at Austin Peay,” Edwards said. “And my first year at Science Hill Daniel Norris walks out from basketball and throws his first bullpen in February and I went home and told my wife Sarah, ‘This kid is a freshman and he’s got better stuff right now than those two guys had at Austin Peay. And he’s 14.’ We knew from day one that that guy was special.”
Edwards (345-128) recorded a special victory last week when the Hilltoppers beat Cherokee for his 342nd career win. John Broyles went 341-129 in 26 seasons (1942-67).
Norris’ teams went 123-43 (2008-11). Fittingly, he got a win for the Detroit Tigers 48 hours prior to Edwards’ milestone with five shutout innings. Edwards recalls Norris striking out 12 in a state tournament win against Oakland his freshman season.
“I remember Joel Mangrum, who was a coach at Milligan (College) at the time, told me that my freshman, who had just turned 15 April 25th, hit 89 miles an hour in the sixth inning,” Edwards said. “So that was unbelievable.”
In addition to Norris, Edwards has coached the likes of Will Craig, Reed Hayes and Will Carter, who are all playing professionally. He pitched to Craig when he stole the show while finishing runner-up in the college Home Run Derby in Omaha.
Of course, John Broyles coached Steve Spurrier and future major leaguers Ferrell Bowman and Joe McClain.
“Science Hill’s a great place to coach,” Edwards said. “The 2011 team had Zach Thompson batting leadoff, Heath Loyd in the two hole, Daniel Norris in the three, Will Craig in the four, Will Carter in the five and Kevin Nelson in the six. I mean what better one through six can you come up with than that – unless you come up with an All-Star team.”
Edwards noted countless players keying many victories, including pitchers such as Brandon Feathers, Reece Westmoreland, Lucas Anderson, Ben McKinney, Tyler Wilson and Andrew Sweeney. And he seemed to name every current or former assistant he’s had.
“Andy Wallen’s been with me for 10 years of my 12,” Edwards said. “He is the stability. … He’s got over 500 wins total as an assistant and head coach. He was with all the Bernie (Young) teams.”
The 43-year-old Edwards grew up in Bolivar, Missouri watching his father cheer passionately for the Kansas City Royals.
“When I was a kid we had a cat named Amos after Amos Otis,” Edwards said. “I was a huge George Brett fan. But I could name all kinds of guys from the ‘80s. I can still remember Buddy Biancalana and Bud Black coming to my elementary school and getting their signatures.”
Edwards pitched three years of college baseball at Lincoln University and Southwest Baptist.
“I gave it everything I had for three years of Division II baseball,” Edwards said. “I was a low-80s pitcher that just knew how to command it and competed with everything I had.”
He began coaching while still in school. Edwards started with a seventh-grade American Legion team and coached at a number of high schools and colleges, including Tennessee Tech and Wabash College. He coached future major leaguer Shawn Kelley at Austin Peay.
“He went toe to toe with David Price in that Austin Peay-Vanderbilt game in the spring of ’07,” Edwards said. “It went 10 innings and my guy went 10 innings and he outpitched David Price. It was 1-1 going to the 10th and David Price came out of the game and my guy went back out there.”
When his oldest daughter was born Edwards decided he’d like to be home more, and opted to leave the college ranks for Science Hill. Never could he have envisioned what’s ensued.
“I told the kids in the locker room I’m just an ole boy from Missouri that got cut in high school and loved the game so much that I stuck with it and made the team and went on to play a little small college baseball,” Edwards said. “I’ve just always loved the game of baseball, and I’m just humbled to even be able to be a part of something like this. … When I got the Tennessee Tech job I had to tell my dad, ‘Thank you for instilling this love of baseball in me, but now I’ve got to sit here and cry because I’m moving away from home to Tennessee.’ But we talk every day, and I met Sarah while I was at Tennessee Tech my third year.”
Relationships mean more than victories for Edwards, and his players are extended family.
“Coach Edwards was an awesome coach to play for,” said David Bryant, who is starting as a freshman at Radford University. “Every day I would love to come to the field because of the atmosphere he created. It was an awesome experience and I wish I could come back.”
Baltimore Orioles minor leaguer Reed Hayes started in football, basketball and baseball.
“What I loved about Coach Edwards and remember him doing for me is working around other sports and helping me grow as a player on the baseball field,” Hayes said. “He knew the game of baseball was extremely mental and wanted me to perform the best I could, so he talked to me on keeping it simple and competing every day. And he also set up throwing programs during basketball season to get my a rm in shape for the season.”
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