C.J. Edwards’ life has changed dramatically over the past few weeks since recording two outs in the decisive inning of Game 7 of the World Series.
The Cubs pitcher was invited to serve as the “keep pounding” drummer prior to the Panthers’ home game against New Orleans on Thursday night, and he has fulfilled numerous interview requests on what it was like to help the Cubs end their 108-year World Series title drought.
Edwards has become a source of pride for the Columbia area. People he never met have changed their profile pictures on social media to a picture of Edwards, and he has received hundreds of congratulatory messages through text, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
“I can barely walk in public without people knowing me. It’s funny,” he said.
Edwards, the humble young man who is a son, father and fiancé hasn’t changed at all and doesn’t plan to, no matter what is in store for him over the next several years in the game of baseball.
“I try to keep myself the same person I’ve always been before I won the World Series and all of this,” he said. “That’s something that I’ve always told myself. I’ve seen a lot of athletes leave their hometowns and stay in the big cities, go to big places, but I love my little state of South Carolina. Regardless of where I go or how much money I make or what happens in life, I’m always going to come back home.”
The state of South Carolina, particularly the Columbia area, will always be home to Edwards.
As he says, it’s where his legacy began.
As a freshman at Mid-Carolina High, a teammate was injured in a boating accident and the coaching staff needed a pitcher to throw against a tough Emerald team. Edwards got the start and was dominant in an 11-1 win.
The next year, Mid-Carolina faced Gilbert and eventual first-round draft pick Chris Owings with the region championship on the line. Edwards once again stole the show, leading the Rebels to a 13-1 victory.
He pitched in numerous other big games in the regular season and playoffs throughout his high school career. So, when faced with the task of retiring batters in Game 7 of the World Series – a situation that would leave even most veteran MLB pitchers struggling to hold their emotions together – Edwards surprisingly felt calm and comfortable.
“I feel like being in the playoffs through high school, playing travel ball against good teams and traveling, all of that sunk in at once and helped me,” Edwards said. “Like, ‘You’ve been in this situation before.’ Even though the World Series is 10 times bigger, I just tried to keep it small.”
It also helped that he knew his parents were in the stands watching, as they had been since he was playing little league.
“When I have my family there, or if I know they’re watching, I feel like I’m way better,” Edwards said.
Faith and Carl decided when C.J. and his brother, Chris, were growing up, one of them needed to be at each of their boys’ games if possible.
C.J. always had his family’s support when he was playing in town. After being drafted, when he was pitching in the minors, he knew his family was tracking his performance online.
“I thought it was very important for the parent to be there because then your kids know that you are supporting them, that you’re not just putting them out there and doing what you want to do,” Faith said. “It was very important that one of us was always there to let them know that good or bad or up or down we’re always going to be there for them.”
Carl, a baseball player himself, learned the importance of always going to your kids’ games from his mother, who went to each of her sons’ or daughters’ games, no matter the sport.
“I felt like that’s what I needed to be doing too,” he said. “When I’d have to work and he’d be playing ball, it would kill me. I felt like, with parents or someone from your family being there, you would give it your 100 percent and your best. You want to make them proud as much as they want to be proud.”
Carl and Faith couldn’t have been more proud watching C.J. pitch through the playoffs and into the World Series.
Faith attended every game in the playoffs, staying with C.J. in Chicago and watching his 1-year-old daughter Ava, while Carl made all of the World Series games and nervously looked on from the stands with Faith and C.J.’s fiancée, Anquinette Smith.
“I was about to cry,” Faith said of her emotions during Game 7. “My eyes got filled with tears and I was shaking. I said, ‘Lord, just let him do good. Lord, just let him do good.’ I was very nervous. It was a different experience.”
C.J. felt the support from his family in the stands, as well as support from everyone back home in Prosperity, Newberry, Whitmire and Little Mountain, throughout his run helping the Cubs make history.
“I felt 10 times better knowing that I had that kind of support back home from friends and people in the town that probably didn’t even know me, but were just excited they got to see me,” he said.
Edwards now plans to give back and support the community where he was raised. He hopes to make a difference for other young athletes with dreams of achieving greatness.
Throughout school, whenever he had to write a paper on what he was going to be when he grew up, he always said he was going to be a Major League Baseball player. Edwards knows there are kids in elementary school now who are writing that same paper.
“I’m not going to forget where I come from, and I’m going to do whatever I can to help out around here,” he said. “I want to give back to the community and do stuff for this area, the whole Columbia area. That’s just how I am as a person.”
He also wants to give back to his family, including his parents who provided for him, as well as his fiancé and baby girl Ava. Friends and family members told him that everything would change when he became a father. He didn’t believe them at first, but he does now.
“She came into this world, and it’s like, ‘OK, I’ve got to grind way harder now,’ ” C.J. said. “I want her to have anything that she wants. I want to support her whether it’s school, money, anything. I want to take care of my family.”