Jim Edmonds turns to the venerable Mark Twain and smiles, a knowing confident smirk that speaks to their common ground. You see, it was Twain who so glibly and personally confirmed that the rumors of his death were exaggerated. It is Edmonds who brings life and modernity to Twain's observation. For like Twain, Edmonds has been forced to prove to a cynical media that he, too, lives and indeed can perform at a major league level. Despite his critics, Edmonds remains a very viable offensive and defensive force for the 2006 Cardinals.
On May 1, Edmonds was dancing with Mendoza in sporting a .203 batting average. He had previously committed two errors in one game, a first in his career. To every single one of the kajillion microphones and recorders shoved in to his face to ask if he was ready to retire, Edmonds gracefully answered that he was going to be fine. In a little over two weeks, Edmonds' batting average now stands 59 points higher at .262. Earlier this week he courted .280.
Edmonds' uptick seems to have begun during the two-game road swing to Houston on May 5 where he went 3-for-7. Since bottoming out at .200 on May 2, Edmonds has 16 hits in his last 42 at-bats with a .381 average. If his two 0-fers against the Mets are eliminated, that average swells to .444. This time of year, statistics, like batting averages, can be fluid and more easily improved than later in the season. Also, Edmonds is clearly in the proverbial catbird seat, batting behind the most feared slugger in the game today, Albert Pujols. Although I offer no proof, I suspect that my ten-year-old Golden Retriever could hit at least .150 batting behind Albert the Great.
Clearly age and wear are catching up with Jimmy Ballgame. With the departures of Matt Morris and John Mabry, Edmonds is the senior Cardinal in his seventh season. He will turn 36 in a month, long in the tooth for many major league players, but especially for a starting center fielder. He seems to have accepted the mantle of team leader and wears that role well.
The ever-streaky Edmonds is now hot offensively while playing a strong defensive centerfield, and enjoying immensely the opportunity to give one of those "I told you so" looks to interviewers who had written him off. He handled the inquisitions deftly, repeating over and over that he just needed to be himself and that things would work out. They certainly have for the seasoned veteran.
Old Number 15 is unquestionably in the twilight of his career, yet that fact has not stopped him from hurling his body around like a 20-year-old trying to scrap his way out of Rookie League ball. The difference now is that Tony La Russa's old warhorse doesn't heal as quickly. Edmonds appears to play through pain on a daily basis, now his regular lot in life. But for so long as he can continue to play at HIS level – a very high standard indeed – Edmonds will be the incumbent center fielder at Busch III.
Just as Jimmy Ballgame and those of us who appreciate his skill, tenacity, and leadership on and off the field knew, media-prompted rumors of his demise truly were premature and almost comically inaccurate. With that immense sense of self-satisfaction, both he and his pal Mark Twain can enjoy the setting sun.