In the Wake of the News
July 24, 2013
Prosperity greeted C.J. Edwards the day after the Cubs traded for the promising Class A pitcher and former 48th-round draft pick at the center of the Matt Garza deal.
Edwards returned Tuesday to his hometown of Prosperity, S.C. — population 1,182 — to celebrate with relatives and friends before leaving Wednesday for Daytona, Fla., where the 1,464th player selected in the 2011 amateur draft hopes to begin his improbable ascent up the Cubs' minor league system.
"I have no say in it, but I was pleased,'' Edwards, 21, said on the phone from his parents' home. "Where I was drafted is just a number. It doesn't say '48th-rounder' on your contract. I say just give me an opportunity to prove what I can do and I'll show you what I'm made of.''
Taking that attitude one defining day several years ago in South Carolina helped Edwards emerge from baseball obscurity in Prosperity. A junior college coach named Chris Kemp who later became a Rangers scout saw Edwards pitch for a team in the "Bush League,'' a predominantly African-American league comprising adults from communities in that part of the state. Edwards prefers to call the collection of teams full of guys playing for fun the "Sandlot League.''
"You hear 'Bush League' and people get the wrong idea,'' Edwards said. "They think of guys stealing bases when they're up 10 runs or a bush-league move. It's not like that. It's competitive, good baseball played by guys who just happen to be a little older.''
Edwards' uncle Chuck, 45, still catches for the Newberry Pirates. He was behind the plate when C.J., then a teenager, took the mound for the first time against grown men to face a team called the Black Sox that had battered the starting pitcher for 14 runs by the second inning of a tournament championship game.
"My uncle gave me the ball and said, 'Are you sure you want this?' '' Edwards recalled. "And I said, 'My last name is Edwards. I want that ball.' ''
Nearly eight dominant innings later, Edwards had registered 13 strikeouts and his team had rallied for the victory. Afterward, Edwards met Kemp, who was aware of the skinny pitcher with raw ability from scouting him at Mid-Carolina High School. The outing left a deep impression.
"That was how (the Rangers) really discovered him because after that C.J. played for a travel team called the Carolina Cyclones, and they kept track of his progress,'' said Carl Edwards Sr., C.J.'s father.
The Rangers gave Edwards a $50,000 signing bonus, which he used to buy a black Mercedes-Benz, and put the 6-foot-2, 160-pounder on a 6,000-calorie diet. The pitcher whom minor league teammates nicknamed "The String Bean Slinger'' began working out regularly and drinking shakes consisting of milk, ice, Nutella, protein powder, peanut butter and Oreos.
"Some days I feel like eating, some days I don't,'' Edwards said of his weight issues.
A different kind of hunger drives him. Edwards dreams of one day making enough money as a major league pitcher to make life in a small town more comfortable for his parents, Faith and Carl, and younger brother, Christopher. That objective motivated Edwards during an impressive 2012 season that saw him rise with the low-A Spokane Indians from relatively unknown project to the eighth-ranked prospect in the Northwest League, according to Baseball America.
Walking into the Hickory Crawdads' home clubhouse Monday afternoon brought Edwards one step closer to his ultimate goal.
"I was supposed to pitch that night, and I found out when I went to my locker and 'SportsCenter' was on that I was traded,'' Edwards said. "I was like, OK, it's all good. I'm excited. I got a chance to talk to the fellas before I left. Then I talked to Theo (Epstein) when he called, and the first thing he said was, 'Welcome to the Cubs.' ''
Welcome to an organization that sorely lacks pitching depth. The Cubs expect quicker results from Triple-A third baseman Mike Olt, whose vision issues since being beaned in November could blur his future, and solid 24-year-old right-hander Justin Grimm. But if the high-risk, high-reward prospect with the 8-2 record and 1.83 ERA keeps improving command of his 96 mph fastball and sneaky-good changeup, years from now this will go down as the C.J. Edwards Trade.
"I told him it's a blessing from God that you got moved,'' Carl said. "The Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to succeed in Chicago.''
They can take the kid out of Prosperity, but the Cubs believe it will be much harder to take prosperity out of this kid.
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