Baseball a way of life for Edman siblings

September 9th, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- The ball shot off the St. Louis hitter’s bat with a loud crack and soared toward Target Field’s center-field warning track. Byron Buxton took off, in hot pursuit.

Whenever Buxton gets leather on a ball that doesn’t leave the yard, it’s probably a safe bet that the former Platinum Glove Award winner will come down with it. On July 28, he didn’t. The ball went in and out of his glove and caromed over the wall for an improbable solo home run.

Three levels up, in a luxury suite down the first-base line, Twins front office employee Johnny Edman, a data quality engineer, did some lightning-quick calculations in his head as he served as a volunteer TrackMan operator for the team, one of few roles that afforded him access to the park.

It’s the eighth inning, he thought. The Twins are up, 6-2, and the back end of our bullpen is strong. We’ve probably still got this win in the bag.

“To be honest, I was a little excited about it,” he said with a sheepish grin. “I was fine with it. I was happy to see him do well, but still hoping that we would win, though."

Why all the mixed emotions about a homer? That hitter was Tommy Edman, his younger brother. Tommy wasn’t supposed to be at Target Field this year, since the Cardinals weren’t originally slated to visit Minnesota before the COVID-19 pandemic shuffled the schedule. Johnny had just been hired by the Twins in December, and even beyond the fortuitous timing, he understood just how lucky he was to be in the ballpark for that homer at all during a season with no fans.

Considering all of that, wouldn’t it probably have been fine for him to cheer a little bit?

"That's fair,” Johnny said. “Jeremy [Raadt, my supervisor] wouldn't get mad at me for that."

With a little help from Twins director of media relations Dustin Morse, Johnny not only saw his brother’s first homer of the season, but also had the ball in hand during the following day’s game, a unique keepsake in 2020 that no other sibling can claim -- especially not his sister. It now sits on a box on his mantle, and it’s just about the only thing that Johnny can hold over Elise, four years his junior, who carries the ultimate sibling trump card of actually sharing a workplace with Tommy.

Elise, too, works in baseball as a systems engineer in the Cardinals’ front office. She’d be able to watch all of Tommy’s home games in any normal year -- just not this one.

The history of baseball is full of family connections, but none quite like that of these three siblings unique to modern baseball: Tommy, the star athlete; Johnny, the engineer; and Elise, the athlete-turned-engineer. All three took different paths to get to this point, but within the last 15 months, all three debuted in the Majors -- in their own way.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about,” Elise said. “And it all started with my dad because he has this unmatched love for baseball.”

“We want the kids to all do what they love, and do what they want, not what their parents would love for them to do,” added John Edman, the siblings’ father. “But it is really cool that they’re doing something that they love and that we, in one way or another or in a secondary capacity, get to enjoy what they’re doing. There aren’t many parents that get to watch their kids work.”

The player

Tommy took to playing baseball early. He and Johnny would play what they called “alleyball” with their father when he got home from work -- Wiffle ball in the alley behind their house in San Diego. From there, it progressed to Little League, then travel ball and high school, the latter two always coached by his father, who teaches math and coaches varsity baseball at La Jolla Country Day High School in San Diego.

John hoped to stay in baseball after his career ended as an infielder for Williams College in Massachusetts. He went to the University of Michigan for graduate school and was a volunteer assistant coach for the Wolverines. His wife, Maureen, grew up in Los Angeles listening to Vin Scully call Dodgers games. When the two married and had kids, activities centered around baseball because the parents enjoyed it so much.

The Edmans moved to San Diego in 1999, and John figured out a way to put a batting cage in their backyard. Tommy and his father would practice swings or take ground balls back there for hours at a time.

A sixth-round Draft pick out of Stanford in 2016, Tommy elbowed his way up the Cardinals' depth chart in the spring of 2019. He started the season at Triple-A Memphis, and in June of last year was promoted to the big league club and made his debut at Wrigley Field.

He never went back to Memphis.

Tommy, 25, is an everyday player without an everyday position for the Cardinals, moving between the infield and outfield. He played shortstop this year while Paul DeJong recovered from a positive COVID-19 test. He plays third base when Matt Carpenter is the Cardinals’ designated hitter or has a day off. He fills in at second base when Kolten Wong needs a day off. He’s seen more time in the outfield lately with Dexter Fowler on the injured list.

All the while, his switch-hitting bat stays in the lineup. Ever since they drafted him and especially this past year, the Cardinals have been impressed with Tommy’s skill at adjusting to pitching and using analytics to do so -- looking at spin rates, zone charts, pitching sequences.

His swing was born working with his dad in their backyard and developed in the Cardinals system. As he ascended through the Minor Leagues, his family followed along.

“Baseball has pretty much always been a family affair for us,” Tommy said. “Every family member has been involved. From playing Wiffle ball when we were little to all the games to now.”

The engineers

Johnny used to play in the infield, too, but his proudest achievement came when he pitched four scoreless innings for his high school’s junior varsity team. He wasn’t going to overpower anyone, so he threw sidearm with a sinker, breaking ball and changeup. ("You don't want to know my gun readings,” he joked. “They were bad.”)

“Tommy was always a better player than me,” Johnny said. “He definitely worked harder at it and it also helps that he's 5 or 6 inches taller than me. I didn't quite get blessed with very much height. [Jose] Altuve didn't really break into the Majors until I was in high school."

Johnny first learned how to score a game from his grandfather when he was no more than four years old. It started with a scorebook and progressed to a PalmPilot, one of those old-school digital devices with a touch screen. By the time he was eight, he was sitting in the dugout with the team his father coached at La Jolla Country Day, dutifully keeping score (much to the surprise of onlookers).

Edman family trips to baseball tournaments would usually involve Johnny scoring the games from the sidelines, young Elise reading books and playing with other younger sisters in a tent alongside her mother, and Tommy playing -- and often taking the mound in only the most pressure-filled of situations.

“It’d be like bases loaded, nobody out and I would bring him in, and Maureen would get so nervous and would probably want to punch me,” John said.

“I’d just leave,” Maureen said. “I had a way of dealing with the nerves -- I was always the team photographer. There’s a level between you and being a nervous wreck because you have a job to do.”

As he grew older, Johnny transitioned into a team manager role for his father’s team and set his sights on the technical side of baseball, fueled by his enjoyment of the book “Moneyball” and his father’s background in math education. He knew he wanted to stay around the game as he majored in applied math at Wheaton College, and he got his chance when he became a baseball operations intern with his hometown Padres.

Johnny didn’t get a full-time offer, though, leading to work in technical consulting and a development job outside baseball. He stayed in Missouri, which helped him stay close to Tommy’s Minor League stops in Peoria, Memphis and Springfield. They even roomed together for a few months. Johnny maintained the skillset necessary for a modern baseball research and development position and worked through the application process for the Twins from the bottom to the top.

"Ideally, I'd like to work in baseball for a long time,” Johnny, 26, said. “I'd like to make contributions to player evaluation, that sort of thing. And so I'm happy doing development and things like that. Data engineering, I guess I should say. Helping out the analysts any way I can. It's been cool how the Twins have listened to different voices in the front office.”

Elise, now 22, took over for Johnny as the team manager when he graduated high school, and then she enjoyed as decorated a collegiate athletic career as Tommy. She helped lead her high school team to a volleyball state championship in 2013 and went on to start at Davidson for four seasons as a defensive specialist and libero.

Elise, who studied computer science, knew she wanted to work in sports somehow, someway, and when a job opened up in the Cardinals' front office, she started the long interview process. She accepted the job this past winter, graduated from Davidson in May and has settled into her St. Louis apartment with her husband while working remotely this season.

Her job centers around the Cardinals’ development system, collecting data for analysts and occasionally providing analysis, too. Because Tommy has graduated to the Majors, Elise doesn’t work with his stats too much.

“There’s not too much crossover there, but obviously when I watch the games, I’m rooting for him and hoping that he does super well,” Elise said. “It’s just an entertaining way to learn. You get to learn a lot while also doing the things that you love. I think just that I’m honestly learning so much while also getting to apply it to a sport that I love.”

Elise’s big brothers couldn’t be more proud of where she is now, just a few months out of college.

“I remember when she was really young, she said she liked going to Padres games more because the seats were comfortable and she could fall asleep in them,” Tommy said. “She’s obviously changed a lot since she was six years old. Getting the chance to apply what she studied in college to [a] sport that she’s interested in is a really cool chance for her. And just the fact that it happens to be with the team that I play for is a bonus.”

On Tuesday, the Twins and Cardinals played a doubleheader to wrap up their season series. Tommy played third base in the first game and right field in the second game. He launched a two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 1 -- his third homer of the year and second against the Twins.

Elise and Johnny had the game on in the background while they worked. Another day of baseball in the Edman family.

“This is just natural for them,” Maureen said. “They grew up at the field. That’s what they always did. So they’re all very comfortable being involved in baseball.”

Tommy has said before that if he wasn’t playing, he’d probably want to work in a baseball front office. You can say it runs in the family.