WHEELING - Justin Edwards has spent nearly a lifetime reaping the benefits of baseball. Now, he's ready to give back.
Edwards, currently pitching for the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, has been named pitching coach at West Liberty University.
''I'll be retiring (from playing baseball) after this season for sure,'' Edwards said Tuesday prior to Lincoln's game against the Gary (Ind.) RailCats. ''I'm going to be 29 next year when the season starts and to be able to have an opportunity to be a an NCAA Division II college pitching coach is a very fortunate opportunity.''
Edwards' ascension to coach should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the Wheeling Central Catholic High School graduate well.
A baseball lifer, Edwards grew up the son of a coach - Terry Edwards - formerly the head coach at Wheeling Central and currently the head coach and assistant athletics director at Wheeling Jesuit University.
The apple, or in this case, the baseball, hasn't fallen far from the tree.
''I've always liked the game of baseball a lot ... people say they love they game,'' Edwards said. ''I like it a lot, but what I love more than anything is influencing younger kids the right way.
''I want to help kids. I like seeing kids improve and influencing their lives in a positive fashion. I'm in the business of molding youngsters.''
Edwards' attitude is reflective of the men he's played for. Men like his dad, former WLU coach Bo McConnaughy, former Pittsburgh Pirate Dave Cash, ex-Boston Red Sox all-star catcher Rich Gedman, and Andy Etchebarren, who won a pair of world championships with the Baltimore Orioles.
''I've played for them and learned from them and became for confident about my knowledge of the game,'' Edwards said.
''I remember when I was first learning the process and I was very naive and didn't really know about the intricacies. I'm excited to be able to pass on my knowledge.''
Even though Edwards has never officially held the title of coach, he's been active in teaching the game for some time.
Through the Total Athlete Indoor Training Center in Triadelphia, Edwards has teamed to help conduct academies and clinics. That's where the teaching bug really bit him.
''I was able to work with players from the ages of 5 to 18,'' he said. ''I really like seeing (the players) mature in their skills.''
Edwards has had a playing career that has taken all over the country and Canada.
After a brief stint at West Virginia University, Edwards returned to West Liberty where he earned All-WVC honors.
Following college, he spent time playing for such organizations as the Worcester Tornadoes, the York Revolution and the Washington Wild Things.
Edwards thought his baseball career was over when the Wild Things' season ended in 2011. But after a fine showing in an independent league all-star game in Florida he was persuaded to lace up the cleats for one more season.
''That's all I wanted was to get one more chance to possibly play for (a major league) affiliate,'' Edwards said.
Edwards is enjoying a fine season with Lincoln and stood sixth in the league in strikeouts heading into Tuesday's game.
Not long after he signed with the Saltdogs, McConnaughy offered Edwards the opportunity to coach on his Hilltoppers staff. And as a West Lib graduate, it was a dream come true.
''It's a pretty unique situation,'' Edwards said. ''Division II coaches are some of the best coaches you'll ever come across.''
When McConnaughy hung up his spikes following a 30-year coaching career last month, new coach Eric Burkle welcomed Edwards with open arms.
As soon as Lincoln's season ends, Edwards will begin his work with the Hilltoppers.
''I know it's possible to win (at West Liberty),'' he said. ''With hard work and the right kind of kids I know we can win and be successful.
''I'm thankful to Bo and Eric for giving me the opportunity.''