It was A-Rod, of all people, who finally made it feel real to me.
It was June 23, and I was watching ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, Angels vs. Cardinals. Two weeks had passed since my cousin Tommy Edman made his Major League debut, having been called up by St. Louis from Triple-A Memphis.
Cousin Tommy. 24 years old. In the bigs.
My family group chat exploded when we learned Tommy got the call. On June 8, he had his first at-bat, at Wrigley Field, as a ninth-inning pinch hitter. His parents cut a vacation short to fly into Chicago and attend the game on a day’s notice. In New York, on a pirated feed, I watched him strike out, from the left side of the plate, on three pitches. The following week, on June 14, I sat in the bleachers at Citi Field to see Tommy’s first-ever start (at second base) and, batting righty, his first-ever hit (a long double). After the game, I went down to the field to chat with Tommy alongside his parents and his younger sister, Elise. “I think I’m getting sent down next week,” he told me. He was as level-headed as ever, Big-League Tommy. To me, it still didn’t feel real.
But Tommy didn’t get sent down. Nine days later I finally saw Tommy play without a Reddit stream or from a distance of 400 feet. ESPN, HD, prime time. With grown-ass, bearded, multimillionaire men. Again, Tommy entered the game late as a pinch hitter. This time, he hit—smoked—a triple, left-handed. Then, as a replay showed Tommy rounding second in majestic high-definition, Alex Rodriguez started gushing: “The Stanford Cardinal just flying around the bases,” he said on the broadcast. “That’s pretty to watch.” Tommy’s helmet flew off—the camera zoomed in on his boyish face. “What a great feeling,” said A-Rod.
And suddenly it all felt real. I had a blood relative playing a pro sport, at the highest possible level, on national television. A-Rod knew his name. My cousin Thomas Hyunsu Edman had made it to Major League Baseball. What a great feeling.
I’m just Tommy’s cousin, mind you—once removed. I could only imagine how his parents felt. So I called Tommy’s dad, John Edman Jr., on July 1, the day after the Cards completed a series against the Padres. John sounded happy, having watched Tommy start all three games, but drained. Nearly an entire section of friends and family attended each game. St. Louis’s trip to San Diego was a homecoming for Tommy, who went to school from kindergarten through 12th grade at La Jolla Country Day, 16 miles north of Petco Park. John, a math teacher at La Jolla, was his baseball coach in school.
“Every little kid dreams of that opportunity to play in the major leagues,” said John, on the phone from California. “And I think every dad has a little bit more reality and thinks that it’s a super long shot.” John would know. A baseball lifer himself, he played four years of shortstop at Division-III Williams College in Massachusetts. (It was there that John met Maureen Kwak—his future wife, Tommy’s mom, and the daughter of my late paternal uncle.) “To be honest, the day after the draft,” said John of his college career, “I was looking in the paper to see if maybe in one of the last rounds I might get drafted.”
He didn’t; his second son, Tommy, did—by St. Louis in the sixth round in 2016. John said Tommy was always a “slightly under-the-radar player,” one of the last guys to sign for his Stanford class. “Looking back, I probably could’ve seen in middle school that he was at least going to play in college,” said John. In their backyard in La Jolla, John built a backyard batting cage where Tommy honed his switch-hitting. Within the extended family, everybody knew that Tommy was obsessed with the sport from an early age. As he grew older, he just kept improving—the competition got better, and so did he. “I’m guessing at every level they were like, ‘Who is this kid?’” said John. “He just did everything well, but nothing that was eye-popping.”
Tommy continued to impress at Stanford, against Pac-12 competition. “A coach’s dream,” said Brock Ungricht, a Stanford assistant during Tommy’s three seasons. “[Head coach Mark] Marquess called him the best practice player he’s had.” Tommy also had a knack for the big moment: As a freshman, he hit a two-run walk-off home run to topple Indiana in the final game of an NCAA regional. In the summer of 2015, I watched Tommy play in the Cape Cod Baseball League against some of the nation’s best collegiate players, the kind of showcase talents who already look like pros. Tommy didn’t necessarily stand out, but he more than held his own. Throughout his Stanford career, Tommy made his name as an undersized, speedy, do-everything infielder. So it was fitting that he was drafted by the Cardinals, an organization known, as my colleague Michael Baumann told me, for “turning scrappy college grinders into good pros.”
As a sixth-rounder, Tommy was no sure shot. His pro journey began three years ago. In 2016, I went to Staten Island to watch him play A-ball for State College, his first minor league stop. He ended up making that league’s All-Star Game. Then it was Springfield. Palm Beach. Peoria. Memphis. I followed his progress, checking box scores from afar—wherever he went, Tommy proved that he belonged. Could he really make it to the majors? I saw Tommy at Thanksgiving in 2018, at the Edmans’ house in La Jolla. It was Baseball Pro Tommy, but Same Old Tommy: realistic yet quietly confident about his chances. (I was sure to get a signed bat.) Around that time, FanGraphs pegged Tommy as the Cardinals’ 20th-best prospect, praising his speed but questioning his hitting power. Three months later, MLB.com ranked Tommy as the team’s 11th-best prospect, adding that he “probably profiles best as a utility man when all is said and done.”
So his stock was rising heading into this season. In spring training, Tommy hit .333 over 22 games—including a triple against Nationals ace Max Scherzer. He returned to Triple-A and blasted seven home runs in 49 games; then, after St. Louis reserve infielder Jedd Gyorko was put on the injury list on June 8, Tommy was called up. Big League Tommy, from then and ever since.
I called Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ assistant GM and director of scouting, and asked what they saw in Tommy’s game. Flores ticked off Tommy’s attributes: “To be able to get someone who had speed, who had versatility, was a switch-hitter, and who played up the middle for an established, winning program was very attractive,” he said.
So do the Cards have a type? Kind of. “There’s a tradition of players coming up through the ranks where they know that if they perform, we are an organization that promotes,” said Flores. “But the credit also goes to them. Those types of players who have to scrap, whose strength comes late, who are overlooked because physically others are more imposing—those types of players continue to find ways to win and compete. And Tommy has always found a way to win and compete at whatever level he’s done.
“And I would imagine,” he added, “those who know Tommy the longest are probably the least surprised at his success. Because that’s all he ever does, is succeed.”
Tommy had already achieved a few career firsts—first appearance, first start, first hit, first homestand—before he felt he truly arrived. On June 20 against the Marlins, Tommy entered the game as a defensive sub in the top of the eighth. The Cards trailed 5-3. In the bottom of that inning, with a man on first, Tommy, batting lefty, cracked his first home run.
Tommy Edman's first career home run! pic.twitter.com/B6FNEzwK7K— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) June 21, 2019
“That was definitely the ‘welcome to the big leagues’ at-bat,” he said on the phone from Seattle on an off day. “It was the first at-bat that I had where it was close late in the game. Just being able to hit a home run in that situation and tie the game up, and then going back to the dugout and getting a curtain call, that was definitely the moment that I realized that I was a contributor on a big league team—not just a member of the team hanging out on the bench in case they need an extra guy.”
For his first couple of weeks, Tommy was the Cards’ “extra guy,” filling in everywhere—which, not for nothing, is part of what makes him an asset. The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh wrote in January about positional versatility in baseball and how MLB teams are actively seeking the “roving, super-utility type who can fill in all over.” Tommy, a literal student of the game at Stanford, is well aware of the trend. “Teams like the Dodgers—pretty much every position player on their team can play multiple positions,” he said. “I think that’s what kind of helped me so far, is being able to play second, short, and third. Having done so has given the team the confidence to get me out on the field a little bit more.” He paused. “But at the same time,” he said, “I want to become a starter with the Cardinals.”
That could happen if he keeps playing well. Tommy started eight of the Cardinals’ 10 games heading into the All-Star break, batting leadoff and splitting time between second and third base. “He’s taking good at-bats, playing good defense,” said St. Louis manager Mike Shildt. “He’s creating more opportunities for himself.” Two days after I spoke to Tommy, he hit another huge pinch-hit home run, this time from the right side, breaking open a tie game in the ninth inning in Seattle. (“Hey, it’s past your bedtime,” Tommy said he heard a fan chirp while he was in the on-deck circle.) He now has three dingers in 53 MLB at-bats—after hitting a total of four in three seasons at Stanford. In the minors, his power became more consistent—“a better swing path,” he said, “putting myself in a position where I can square the ball up more.” He isn’t getting ahead of himself, though. “As I collect more at-bats, I think teams are going to start to develop a more detailed plan for how to get me out. I’ll probably start getting pitched to differently,” said Tommy. “And then once that happens, it’s up to me to adjust back to their adjustment.”
The Cards are 13-13 since Tommy joined—halfway through the season they’re .500 overall, two games behind the division-leading Cubs. During the team’s middling first half, Tommy provided what local columnists have called “a breath of fresh air” and “a little crackle.” “Why Tommy Edman May Be the Spark That the Cardinals Need” read one headline. On Fox Sports Midwest, Jim Edmonds said: “There’s not a guy around this organization that doesn’t love him.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave Tommy an A on its midseason report card; a local TV station issued an A+. “He’s been exactly what the Cardinals have needed,” the blurb said.
Could I be getting ahead of myself? I’m not sure. I hadn’t followed MLB at all in probably 20 years, since back when my hometown Orioles were good. Suddenly, I find myself searching the Cardinals subreddit, tracking down MLB.tv feeds and subscribing to baseball podcasts. I asked staff writers and Ringer MLB Show cohosts Baumann and Lindbergh about what they thought of Tommy’s prospects. Baumann’s best-case comparable—César Hernández of the Phillies—was someone I had never even heard of. “From a playing-time perspective,” added Lindbergh, “he’s in sort of a tough spot in the short term because it’ll be tough for him to displace Kolten Wong at second, and there aren’t really immediate vacancies elsewhere in the infield.” Baumann wrote: “I think he could play his way into a big league regular’s role somewhere, but not in St. Louis unless something changes.”
In short: Tommy is a rookie with a total of 55 MLB plate appearances. These are early days yet, and pro sports could care less about your feel-good stories. But seeing Tommy shine on the biggest stage has already brought me so much joy. For his entire life, he singularly dedicated himself to get to the highest level of his profession, and through practice and hard work and perseverance, he reached it. His family’s euphoria while watching him thrive is amplified by the elation of countless Cards fans after a big Tommy play. They’re cheering for Tommy—and in some tiny way, they’re cheering for his mom, his dad, for all of us. Long may it continue. My cousin made it to the big leagues, and I wouldn’t bet against him sticking around.