SAN DIEGO -- As a freshman in high school, Austin Hedges endured one of the roughest baseball years of his life, scuffling at the plate and struggling to adapt to a higher level of play. A year later, he was MVP of his league and on course for a long pro career.
The Padres catcher credits former coach Joe DeMarco with his turnaround. On Wednesday, Hedges gets the chance to repay DeMarco as part of the Game Changer Awards in San Diego.
The Padres have an off-day Wednesday, meaning Hedges will be on hand to present DeMarco with his award, as part of a ceremony in Del Mar. The event is put on by Coaching Corps, an organization that provides youth from low-income communities with access to caring and well-trained coaches.
"It'll be exciting for me," Hedges said of presenting DeMarco with the award. "He's been there with me from the get-go."
DeMarco insists Hedges was always destined for big league success. He merely hoped to guide him toward it.
"He was always a very driven kid who was very serious about being great," DeMarco said. "Even though he was skilled and a pretty good player, he never thought he had it all figured out, and he asks all the right questions."
Hedges is now one of the game's most reliable catchers. He's off to a slow start at the plate this year with a .648 OPS through 12 games. But he's widely regarded as one of the sport's best defensive backstops.
Hedges and DeMarco work together during the offseason, typically three or four times per week. DeMarco, who is president and COO of Elite Baseball, also serves as a hitting instructor for A's star third baseman Matt Chapman, who grew up with Hedges.
Years later, DeMarco and Hedges are close friends, more than just teacher and pupil. But Hedges is still learning from DeMarco, and he's eager to reward him for his impact on Wednesday night.
"He's caught him well," said Padres manager Andy Green. "It’s been a good relationship for those two."
Mejia has started seven games this season including Tuesday, and he's hitting just .160. In Green's eyes, Mejia is still adjusting to his backup role.
"He's getting opportunity, but he's still learning how to thrive with an inconsistent level of opportunity," Green said. "That's a challenge for young guys."