While Tommy Edman was growing up in San Diego, he wasn’t aware of many major leaguers with backgrounds similar to his own. He is Korean American on his mother’s side and has fond memories of multi-course Korean meals during holiday celebrations with relatives in Los Angeles.
Today’s aspiring ballplayers have an easier time envisioning a path to the big leagues. In Edman, they see an Asian American star with the 11-time World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, who conclude a road series against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday at 11:35 a.m. ET on Peacock.
Edman, 27, is a sublime defender and won his first Gold Glove Award last year. Offensively, his OPS has jumped around 100 points from 2021 to 2022, and he leads the National League with eight stolen bases. He’s competing with Jazz Chisholm of the Marlins and Jeff McNeil of the Mets for National League All-Star recognition at second base.
If he’s selected, Edman will be introduced as a first-time All-Star at Dodger Stadium — where his mother, Maureen, fell in love with the game as a young Dodgers fan.
As Major League Baseball celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s difficult to find a more compelling story than the Stanford graduate who is distinguishing himself on a star-laden Cardinals roster alongside names like Pujols, Molina, Wainwright, Arenado, and Goldschmidt.
“Hopefully I can set an example for Asian American kids across the U.S. and be that role model of what it looks like to be an Asian American in the big leagues,” Edman told NBC Sports during a recent telephone conversation. “Hopefully kids can look to me and see that it’s possible, that they can have a good chance to make the big leagues.”
Edman is among more than a dozen Asian Americans or Pacific Islander Americans to appear in the major leagues this year, along with Dane Dunning, Keston Hiura, Connor Joe, Gosuke Katoh, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Steven Kwan, Rob Refsnyder, Kurt Suzuki, Mitch White, Connor Wong, Kolten Wong, and Christian Yelich.
Congress formally designated May as AAPI Heritage Month in 1992, and Edman said he’s noticed greater public attention on the observance during the last several years. “I think it’s great to celebrate all the races that make up America’s demographic,” he said. “It’s cool to get recognized in this context and have this month to celebrate Asian heritage. In baseball, we’re seeing a greater influx of Asian players coming to the U.S., especially with (Shohei) Ohtani and (Seiya) Suzuki from Japan.”
Edman also played alongside Korean left-hander Kwang Hyun Kim in St. Louis during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Although Edman speaks limited Korean, he learned about the country’s baseball culture from Kim, who returned to pitch in the Korea Baseball Organization this year.
“I always noticed the respect he showed to the coaching staff, to his teammates, and to the fans, as well,” Edman said. “The other part was how much fun he had. No matter how he was performing individually or what was going on with the team, he was always up in the dugout, cheering everyone on. He was a really great teammate. He never lost the joy of the game.”
The Edmans can be described as one of the first families of American baseball in 2022, given the breadth of their impact on the game: Tommy’s parents are graduates of Williams College in Massachusetts, where his father, John, was a standout shortstop. John worked as an assistant baseball coach at the University of Michigan while earning his master’s degree in statistics (Tommy was born in Michigan during that time). John is now a math teacher and the head baseball coach at La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day School, where Tommy starred on his dad’s team.
In fact, both of Tommy’s siblings have worked in Major League Baseball: His brother, Johnny, is a data quality engineer with the Minnesota Twins, and his sister, Elise, worked for the Cardinals as a systems engineer before leaving earlier this year to join a mobile technology company.
The family connections produced one heartwarming moment in the trying 2020 season: Johnny, whose role as a team employee enabled him to attend MLB games closed to the public, witnessed Tommy’s home run against the Twins in Minneapolis — and was later given the baseball to bring home.
— John Edman (@Johnny_Edman) July 30, 2020
The brothers don’t talk too much about work, but Johnny playfully affirms the degree of difficulty in Tommy’s defensive plays — and the rare baseballs he can’t reach. “He’ll show me a play and say, ‘You had a 10 or five percent chance of making that catch,’” Tommy said. “I’ll just laugh and say, ‘That ball landed 50 feet away from me. How could I have gotten anywhere close to it?’”
Tommy is interested in becoming a baseball executive when his playing career is done. After all, he’s the only one of John and Maureen’s children who has not worked in an MLB front office.
“I have to live up to my siblings,” Tommy said, matter-of-factly.
Left unclear, of course, is which Edman will be the highest-ranking club official by then.
Will Tommy hire Johnny? Or the other way around?
“Johnny will be a GM by then,” Tommy predicted.
Tommy also has the background of a future general manager — even without his All-Star-caliber performance on the field. He returned to Stanford after his first season of pro baseball to complete his degree in mathematical and computational science. The Cardinals excused him from their Florida State League affiliate for a couple days so he could receive his degree in Palo Alto alongside his friends in the Stanford Class of 2017.
Edman’s diligence as a student is reflected in the way he approaches his craft, including the discipline required to maintain his swing from both sides of the plate.
“A big part of my development over the last couple years has been developing consistency and a routine at the big-league level,” Edman said. “Being an everyday player over the 162-game season, you really need to figure out how to get your work in while staying fresh for the game.
“That’s the fine balance I’m learning: You can’t take 200 swings every day and expect to stay fresh for 162 games. Each swing you take pregame needs to be with a purpose — and as a switch hitter, anything I do involves double the swings. A big part of that is learning my swing, such that every swing I take is working on a good habit.”
For Edman, mental preparation is equally important. As game time nears, he focuses less on batting cage work and more on his approach against the opposing pitcher’s repertoire. Edman analyzes base stealing with a similar blend of information and instinct, scrutinizing the rhythms of pitchers and how closely they hold runners.
Edman said he’s amazed at the endurance of lessons he learned while playing for his father at La Jolla Country Day. When father and son talk baseball now, John rarely offers critiques of Tommy’s play. Instead, they review unique moments in recent games that John can share with his own players.
“He likes to ask about fun things that happened during the games,” Tommy said. “He’ll always ask questions about what was going on in certain situations. There’s not really any advice given. It’s more curiosity. He’s still a high school coach, and he loves looking at the game that way.”
From Williams College to Stanford University — and MLB front offices to the field of play — the Edmans never stop learning.
Jon Paul Morosi is an MLB Network broadcaster and baseball insider. He joined NBC Sports as a contributing writer in 2022 after covering baseball for MLB.com, FOXSports.com, the Detroit Free Press, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Morosi has covered 12 World Series and baseball stories in Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Cuba.