Playing for the fun of it

First Posted: 8/12/2014

MINNEAPOLIS — Growing up as a kid, Edward Gerald wasn’t a baseball fan. Early during his time at St. Pauls High School, Gerald was more interested in a career as a basketball player.

“Basketball was something I loved,” Gerald said. “I played baseball because I wanted to play. I didn’t fall in love with baseball until probably my sophomore year.”

When Gerald did fall in love with the game, it wasn’t a fleeting moment, but something that turned into a 17-year-career playing baseball at multiple levels before moving to coaching.

“When it comes to that 17-year career, it was a dream I was chasing,” he said. “I felt like this person couldn’t tell me I couldn’t do it. As long as I had a uniform on my back, I felt I had a chance.”

It could have been a much different future for Gerald though, who said he grew up in a time when it was easy for a young man to get into trouble in Robeson County.

“There are tons of people who I have to pay homage to that got me to the position I am in,” Gerald said.

Playing sports in high school was about more than just helping himself or a team. For two years, Gerald played alongside his younger brother Dwayne as well as other relatives in every sport. Gerald doesn’t even take credit as the best athlete in his family.

“I can honestly say that (Dwayne) was better than I was in all three sports,” Gerald said. “I think I had a little better work ethic than he did. He could have played anywhere in any one of those sports if he had had a better work ethic, instead of relying on his athleticism.”

Gerald was still looked at as one of the best athletes in the state of North Carolina during his time at St. Pauls in the late 80s. Current Robeson County Athletic Director Jason Suggs grew up watching Gerald play and said he left plenty of great memories.

“The most memorable moment I had was watching him dunk it five times in the (1988 basketball) state championship,” Suggs said. “And another one is he still holds the national record for most doubles in s game with five.”

Despite a long list of achievements, there are still things that were left off of Gerald’s to-do list in high school.

“I wish I could have won a state championship in football,” he said. “I did in in baseball, I did in basketball, but I fell short (in football).”

“When I played it was fun,” Gerald said. “It was the time of my life. I have so many things that remind me what I accomplished in high school.”

Those accomplishments left him with plenty of options heading into the next level, as Gerald had scholarship offers to play football at several Division I schools, as well as offers to play basketball for several mid-major schools.

It was baseball that called his name though. He was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the third round of the 1989 Major League draft.

For Suggs, seeing a St. Pauls athlete make it to the next level wasn’t an everyday occurrence.

“Growing up in St. Pauls there were always great athletes,” he said, “but a lot of guys, for whatever reason, wouldn’t go off to college. It was good to see one of those guys go off and be that successful.”

Gerald made it to the AA level after six years in the minors, but the life of a professional baseball player in the minors isn’t everything it seems.

“There are perks, but now you’re an employee of many,” Gerald said. “You can get caught up if you aren’t ready. It is called minor league baseball for a reason. You don’t get the luxuries of The Show.”

After suffering several injuries and seeing his playing time reduced, he decided to ask for his release from the Minnesota organization in 1995.

“I know, and I will say this right now, I would probably be in the major leagues right now if I could have stayed healthy,” he said. “I just got tired of getting injured, and once you get labeled as being injury prone, you almost have to go to the unemployment line.”

The release didn’t mean stepping away from the game. Gerald moved on to independent ball in the Prairie League with the Aberdeen Pheasants. The move brought Gerald back to where he was again enjoying the game he had fallen in love with in high school.

“You start loving it a lot more than you did before because you were walking on egg shells,” he said. “You don’t have to look over your shoulder wondering if your good enough.”

Gerald said the pressure wasn’t completely gone, but after playing several years in the minors, he came into the independent leagues as a veteran player who was sought after.

“They are always looking at the waiver wire in independent baseball,” he said. “If you were a veteran, and I was a veteran from the start, you become basically like the top guy, because you only get so many of those guys.”

For the next 11 seasons, Gerald moved through the independent leagues playing for teams from Minnesota and North Dakota to Texas until he wrapped up his playing career for a team in Massachusetts. He also played the game overseas in winter ball leagues.

“You got to see places,” Gerald said. “Little small towns that you’ve probably never heard of. It was totally different.”

It would be coaching that would call his name next, as Gerald would take his first coaching job in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“I just took it with open arms,” he said. “It made my independent seasons so much more enjoyable because I found myself coaching the younger guys.”

Gerald is no longer coaching in the independent leagues; he is still working on building baseball talent as a coach for Minnesota Classic Baseball, where he was worked for six years and is the head instructor with a focus on hitting and outfield play.

Chris Hofacker started Minnesota Classic Baseball.

“The best coach I have ever met, hands down,” Hofacker said. “Eddie is one in a million when it comes to coaching. He has a way of taking the coaching and completely changing it for the youth dynamic.”

Gerald still hasn’t closed the door on making it back into the ranks of professional baseball.

“If the right opportunity presents itself, I will do it, to try and coach my way up to the major leagues,” he said. “But I love what I do here. I can see the immediate success in these kids.”

That isn’t the only opportunity he would jump at though. Gerald said he would also make a move back to his roots in North Carolina to coach and teach the game of baseball like he is now.

“I would take it in a heartbeat,” he said. “If I can do what I do here back home, holy moly, I would love that.”