FORT WAYNE – A half hour or so before the scheduled festivities began for the Party in the Park III fundraising event at Parkview Field, Eric Wedge slipped out of his gray suit coat and casually walked through the second-floor lounge area as though he were in his own living room.
Its my home, Wedge said after looking out across the cityscape behind him. Its where I was born. Its where I grew up.
So less than a week from his 45th birthday and 11 days before pitchers and catchers report at the Seattle spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz., the third-year Mariners manager was in town Friday to help the city he still calls home.
He, and more than 100 current and former athletes, coaches and community supporters gathered at Parkview to help raise funds for the Fort Wayne Sports Corp. and Charis House, a shelter for women and children.
To be involved in the Charis House is huge for us, Wedge said. To come back and get people involved and have a nice evening together with current and former sports celebrities but also people that care about the community that are the movers and shakers in the community, and to raise money. Were all here to raise money; to give to those in need, or to give back to the city.
Even though he returns home when his schedule permits, Wedge mostly has lived elsewhere since 1986 after he graduated from Northrop. There were the years at Wichita State, where he was an All-American catcher; then came the years in the minor and major leagues, both as a player and manager. In 2007 with the Cleveland Indians, he was the American League Manager of the Year.
He was on vacation when he received the news that his former Northrop coach, Chris Stavreti, died in November of Lou Gehrigs disease.
Im a big believer in being consistent, Wedge said. Ive always said as a manager, you must be firm, fair and consistent. Part of that I got from him.
Earlier in the day, before he had to wear the suit and tie and white shirt, Wedge went back to his old school to talk with the Bruins baseball team.
I said, You need to respect and understand how important Fort Wayne is and the opportunity you have growing up here in this town – the opportunity you have to play for a school like Northrop; the opportunity to work for and play for somebody like Matt Brumbaugh, Wedge said.
People ask me who the greatest influence was on me, and the greatest influences were my mom and my father, of course. But there were so many other people in Fort Wayne from the time I started Little League all the way through high school that made a great impact on my life. Theyre a big part of who I am today. And Im a firm believer that you dont get that everywhere, with all due respect to other places. And I have been all over Gods creation, both inside and out of the country. Im here to tell you, people always think that the grass is greener. This is the green grass.