An emotional C.J. Edwards enthusiastically waved a Cubs’ “W” flag at Progressive Field in Cleveland early Thursday morning, minutes after the Chicago Cubs clinched their first World Series title in 108 years.
Moments earlier, Edwards had recorded two of the three outs in the 10th inning of Game 7 as the Cubs held on for an 8-7 win against the Indians.
Cubs fans around the world joined Edwards in displaying their “W” flags with a sense of pride following the victory. After decades of coming up short, the Cubs were world champions.
More than 600 miles from Cleveland in Edwards’ hometown, Sherry Bedenbaugh watched with tears rolling down her face as Edwards paraded around the field. She understood the significance of the “W” and what Edwards and the Cubs had just accomplished, but the “W” had an additional meaning for her – Will.
Bedenbaugh’s son and Edwards’ best friend, Will Bedenbaugh, died in a car wreck in December of 2010, just months before Edwards was set to join Bedenbaugh to play baseball at Charleston Southern.
The two had been friends since elementary school, competing together in little league for years before teaming up at Mid-Carolina High.
Bedenbaugh was the only catcher Edwards wanted to throw to , so when Bedenbaugh signed a scholarship to play at Charleston Southern, Edwards, who was a year behind, decided that’s where he would play his college ball too. That changed after Bedenbaugh’s accident, when Edwards realized it would be too painful to be there without Will., He entered the 2011 MLB draft and was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 48th round.
Edwards was now hundreds of miles from Prosperity and the Bedenbaugh’s house, where he spent countless hours swimming, playing basketball and staying over for sleepovers with Will and Will’s twin brother, Alex, growing up.
But Sherry continued to keep in touch with Edwards and monitored his baseball career as if he was still playing with her boys.
“It’s what Will would have wanted,” Sherry said. “I told C.J. I felt like he was the closest thing to Will I would have besides Alex. He was never a replacement, but he was my third son. He was kind of Will to me. I see Will when I see him because they were so close and loved each other so much. It’s been important and it’s been a good way for me to deal with my grief and him to deal with his too.”
Edwards was a starter his first three years in the minors and would send Sherry his pitching schedule. She would find the minor league game on the tune-in radio app and listen to see how Edwards pitched. The two would talk before or after almost every start.
Edwards was traded to the Cubs organization in 2013 and was moved to the bullpen in 2015 when Chicago decided he was best suited as a reliever.
He made his MLB debut at the end of 2015 and earned a significant role in the Cubs’ bullpen this season after being called up from Triple-A in June. Bedenbaugh and Edwards’ relationship has grown every step of the way. He served as a pallbearer in Bedenbaugh’s mother’s funeral this past December.
“He’s like a family member,” Alex Bedenbaugh said. “He’s been like a brother to me and Will for as long as I can remember. He was just as devastated as we were when the accident happened.”
Sherry Bedenbaugh was in Chicago in September when the Cubs clinched the NL Central title, and as Edwards rode the bus to the stadium for Game 7 of the World Series he Facetimed with Bedenbaugh.
“He was as excited as I’ve ever seen him in his life going into the game,” she said.
When Edwards entered the game in the 10th inning, he walked behind the mound, took off his hat and spoke to Will as he has done before every outing since Will’s death.
“He says, ‘It’s just me and you, man.’ Like they used to,” Bedenbaugh said.
Edwards then imagines he is pitching to Will.
“I’m not speaking for him but the things that he’s told me is he did it for Will. That’s any baseball player’s dream, to play in a World Series or play on a major league team,” Bedenbaugh said. “Of course, Will never got that opportunity… My heart was so full watching him.”
It became even fuller when Edwards grabbed the “W” flag and thrust it into the air.
“It’s not a coincidence at all. The W is very significant,” Bedenbaugh said.