WICHITA, Kansas. — If you listen close, you might hear him catching his breath.
It’s easy to understand why. It’s still a blur for Fort Wayne native Eric Wedge.
Like a Kansas twister, the former Northrop standout has wasted little time transitioning to his new role as Head Coach at Wichita State.
He’s not exhausted, he’s gaining energy and picking up speed.
He’s not looking back.
A little more than a month into the position, he’s playing catch-up to the role, since leaving a player development job in the Toronto Blue Jay front office back.
It was an easy decision to leave the big leagues where he managed Cleveland and Seattle from 2003 to 2013 for lonesome prairie.
It’s been exactly 30 years since that magical 1989 national championship season for the Shockers, a campaign where he was All-American catcher and part of three NCAA tournaments.
But, it’s more than just nostalgia or reliving past glory.
Wedge, now 51, reflects on the people who invested in him as a student and a young ball player.
“It’s a chance to make a difference in young people’s lives and put them on the right track,” Wedge reasoned. “That’s the most important thing for me. We want to be successful both on and off the field, but want to go for the next challenge. I’m always looking for an opportunity to make a difference.”
He says he made it to the major leagues as a player (Boston and Colorado from 1991-94) because of a series of difference makers. People got involved with his life.
“From the time I was in little league at Wallen, to high school, college and pro ball, it all started with my parents — I’ve been fortunate to be around strong people that stood by their beliefs and never compromised. Those are things I’ve been fortunate to be around.”
Strangely enough, as committed as he is to honoring his roots, a return to the Shockers hasn’t been on his radar for long.
The idea started to capture his attention about seven years ago, when legendary coach Gene Stephenson departed in 2013. That’s when someone casually broached the topic.
The gears started to churn and began to make sense. He couldn’t ask for better timing.
“Wichita is a second home to me. I’m very passionate about this city and this university, and of course equally if not more so the baseball program here. For me to come full circle, this is the right time for me to come back here. It’s the right time for the university. So to have this opportunity, it’s something special. I am looking to set up roots here and be a part of this program for a long time.
He’ll quickly tell you his heart belongs to Fort Wayne, and it shows.
“Fort Wayne is probably the biggest part of me,” Wedge reasoned. “Growing up there and developing the values — the mindset — that I still carry with me today. There are so many good things.”
He’s still involved in Fort Wayne. He recently returned to Wallen Little League, where he first learned the game. This spring they named the wood bat league for its most famous alum.
His annual baseball clinic is now in its 15th year and has grown to include other complementary events. He’s even contributed to the Fort Wayne sports history kiosks found in the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the airport. He’s also sponsoring an annual leadership luncheon for emerging students around the area.
“For me to come back from time to time and still be a small part of the community, it’s something that’s important to me and special to me,” Wedge said.
The seeds were taking root even as a teen under Hall of Fame Coach Chris Stavreti at Northrop.
Wedge clearly acknowledges his influence, and influence shines in how he coaches.
“Leadership is something that’s lacking in today’s world,” he said. “I know for a lot of people its uncomfortable, but it’s so necessary. (Stavreti) is a big part of my DNA. It’s not just me, there so many others who are leaders in their own right because of Coach Stavreti. He was a good man. He was tough.”
“He cared about the right things. He wasn’t afraid to stand up or speak his mind for what he felt was right. Because of that he made a difference in the city of Fort Wayne — not just Northrop baseball or high school baseball.”
“A lot of people tip toe through life and if you do that, it’s hard to make a difference.”
“I’m fortunate to be around people who were difference makers.”
As a freshman, Wedge was part of the 1983 state championship team. He called it a combination of fantastic leadership and young talent. All defined by toughness and discipline. “There wasn’t going to anyone one tougher,” he laughed.
Something he says is second-nature for Fort Wayne. A midwest sensibility. With hard work and the right attitude, anything is possible.
“It’s something I don’t take for granted,” he said. “I try to make time for everyone.” He says success isn’t defined by results alone, its about the impact you have on those around you and how you treat others. “That’s a true indicator.”
“You have more opportunity, so you have more responsibility.