CHARLOTTE, N.C. —Mariano Rivera was a starting pitcher, and not a good one, when he broke into the big leagues in 1995.
Maybe it’s not surprising that Carl Edwards Jr., the once-dominant Cubs reliever, knows that history and brings it up near the end of a recent conversation with NBC Sports Chicago at the minor-league ballpark in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I’m in a Mariano life experience,” says Edwards, who for the last four weeks has been a Triple-A pitcher for the White Sox. “He struggled with the Yankees. Once he got to the pen and was able to be himself and went out there every day and competed, he became one of the best closers in the game.
“I’m not saying I’ll be one of the best — nah, I take that back. I will be.”
Edwards, the man who recorded the first two outs in the biggest inning in Cubs history on a November night in Cleveland, is no Mariano Rivera.
But he also is no longer the C.J. Edwards who pitched for the Cubs, a hard-throwing reliever who followed that 10th inning of Game 7 with a dominant 2017 season and then recurring struggles that eventually contributed to a change-of-scenery trade to the Padres in 2019.
How he found himself in Charlotte on this cloudy afternoon in September is a story that winds through five organizations and nine cities since that trade.
Given that road traveled since leaving the Cubs, it would be impossible for him to be the same.
And that might be the biggest reason for his persistent confidence and faith in what he’ll find around the next corner of his career as he focuses on finishing strong with the White Sox affiliate in Charlotte this week.
Maybe what’s next is an invitation from the White Sox — who signed him as a free agent on the final day to make him eligible for postseason rosters — to join the team as taxi-squad depth next month, though even he knows that’s a long shot at best.
“They have a really good team now, and if I get the call, I get the call,” said Edwards, who would have to be added to the 40-man roster. “If I don’t, I go home this offseason and get ready for next year.”
Next year. Next opportunity. Next team, next city, next chance to find the right door that opens onto a new path toward a familiar place, maybe even a big-league home that embraces him as much as the Cubs once did.
“Maybe I got complacent,” he says of what derailed him in Chicago. “Maybe I thought I would be in Chicago my whole life, like even if I struggled they would look at me and be like, ‘He can get out of it.’ That didn’t happen.
“I just blame myself. … No hard feelings.”
Edwards still has the fastball with the natural cut — the one that rarely could be squared up when he threw it for strikes.
But command came and went, along with confidence.
And racist social media posts and taunts that seemed to intensify with his struggles — at one point prompting an MLB investigation — reached a point in his final season with the Cubs that caused his wife to stop going to his games with their young kids.
Barely two years later, he has been with so many organizations since then that he second-guesses himself when he rattles off teams: Padres, Mariners, Braves, Blue Jays and now White Sox.
“The road may get rocky, but it’s part of being in the game, it’s part of learning,” he says. “It’s part of realizing who you are.”
Edwards turned 30 this month. He doesn’t sprint through the clubhouse or leap over furniture to get to the field for practice or games anymore.
And a few more lines crease his face when he speaks now, although that may have less to do with the years than the miles.
He uses the word “patience” a lot these days, he says.
“I don’t look too far ahead. I stay right here,” he says. “I’m not on the roller coaster no more. I’m not getting on and tick-tocking all the way to the top and then go down and then come back up.
“I ride a train now. Yeah, there’s some mountain routes, but the ones where I’m from, we don’t have mountains.”
Talk abut routes.
If you followed Edwards from the day he got traded in July of 2019 to now, you would have traveled 10,301 miles — from Chicago to El Paso to San Diego to Seattle to Tacoma to Atlanta to Gwinnett, back to Atlanta, to Buffalo to Dunedin, back to Buffalo, and to Charlotte.
Or about the round-trip distance from Chicago to Siberia.
Which in a baseball sense is a pretty good way to sum up where he’s been.
“If I was the guy I am now, better than the guy that I was when I came [up with the Cubs],” he says, “and just continued to build off him I would not be in this situation.”
But it’s OK, he says. He has peace, both at home with his family in South Carolina, near his parents, and where he is in his career, he says.
“I am in a great place,” says Edwards, who likes the idea of staying with the Sox organization if they want to make that happen after this season.
“It’s just a different route. I had never understood the different routes that people take.”
Edwards says he also has come to terms with who he is as a pitcher, instead of trying to reinvent himself, like he did his last couple of seasons in Chicago.
“I tried to change stuff, tried to trick people,” he says.
Now, he says, “I told myself I’m not changing for no one. I’m not doing nothing that I haven’t ever done. I went back to my windup, something that got me to the big leagues, and I’m going to ride it till the wheels fall off.
“And when the wheels fall off,” he adds, “it’ll probably be time for me to hang up my cleats and be a dad 100 percent.”
Edwards, who missed two months with an oblique injury this season, has pitched in seven big-league games this season, six for the Blue Jays, and so far is pitching as well this month for Charlotte as he has all season — allowing two runs in nine appearances (2.25 ERA), with 12 strikeouts and two walks in those eight innings.
What might be next?
“We don’t know,” he says. “I’m like everybody else. I tell these young guys here, ‘Hey, fellas, you’re fine. Your time is coming.’
"And my time is coming. I’m in no rush.”
One big difference is Edwards already has had a time, a moment, like few others ever have experienced.
“Yeah, and it’s coming again,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m excited for what it’s going to be like.”