By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
For a couple of different reasons — the main being to take some pressure off his arm when he wasn’t pitching — Ocean City baseball coach Andrew Bristol decided to move senior shortstop Dante Edwardi to right field late in the 2023 season. The team needed some help in the outfield, and Edwardi is one of those guys who will play any position if it means he’s in the lineup with a chance to help his team.
During those late-season games, coach Bristol would sometimes find himself looking out to right field and seeing Edwardi working on his hitting stance, his swing or his pitching mechanics. Right field can be a lonely spot sometimes, and Edwardi wasn’t going to waste time just standing there and daydreaming. That’s the kind of baseball player he is. He probably takes imaginary swings while he’s getting dressed the morning.
Always trying to get better.
“He listens and always wants to get better. He works hard at his craft,” Bristol said. “He’ll take extra ground balls, he’ll work on his swing, and he never complains. The first time we put him in the outfield he was working on his swing out there. He looked like the Little Leaguer that you put in the outfield. He can’t sit still. So if he’s out in the outfield he’s working on his swing, working on his pitching motion.”
All that attention to detail made Edwardi one of the top players in the Cape-Atlantic League the past two years, and ultimately paid off in the form of a college baseball career at Fairleigh Dickenson University. He’ll get started on the next level this fall as a pitcher, bringing with him all the knowledge he’s gained the past few years, as well as a state championship he helped the Red Raiders win when he was a sophomore reserve infielder and pitcher.
He lost his freshman year to the Covid-19 pandemic and mostly rode the bench as a sophomore, but when he got the chance as a junior and senior he didn’t disappoint. As a junior and the Red Raiders’ starting shortstop, replacing the graduated James Mancini, Edwardi hit .410 with 32 hits, 20 runs scored, nine doubles and 13 RBIs, and for his career he batted .338 with 31 runs scored and 49 hits. As a pitcher, he posted a 0.10 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 61 1/3 career innings. He was a workhorse as a senior, piling up 34 innings and allowing just 10 earned runs all year.
“When I first was at Ocean City, my freshman year, I looked up to guys like Gannon Brady and Jaden Millstein. There were some big shoes to fill when James (Mancini) left, too, my junior year,” Edwardi said. “(Missing freshman year) definitely sucked because all I wanted to do was play. I was trying to get after it (and make varsity). But at least we got the Last Dance tournament in, so that was a little something. That spring I just trained at Baseball Performance Center and lifted on my own. It was weird and it threw me off, but it threw everyone off. It was hard to adjust to, but I’m glad they put together something at the end of the season. That Last Dance tournament was pretty cool.”
“I met him as an eighth-grader. He wanted to meet me and talk baseball, and we hit it off right away. It was just me and him, his dad left us alone. His freshman year got lost to covid but he would have made varsity that year. You could tell he had a good work ethic and great skills, so we saw a big future for him. I like to take the cream of the crop among the freshmen and groom them on varsity, and he and Duke (McCarron) were the two who fit that mold. But his freshman year was a wash, and as a sophomore he was a part of that state championship run. He knew his role, he was behind Mancini, but you could see he had a lot of talent. And he was on the mound a little bit for us that year. He had good stuff, he just had to learn how to harness it,” Bristol said. “Last year he took over at shortstop and led the team in hits. He struggled a little bit on the mound with his control. He always had great stuff, he just couldn’t control it. So, he was more of a back-end starter last year, but he had a good summer, signed with Fairleigh Dickenson, and hit the ground running as a senior. He became our No. 1 pitcher. He’s the kind of kid who will do anything to win and help his team, and (late in the season) he was actually playing right field for us. He embraced it because that’s where we needed him. That’s the kind of kid he is, he’s athletic enough to do whatever you ask.”
Control on the hill has always been a bit of a thorn in Edwardi’s side as he has tried to harness the outstanding stuff he has, but he said he’s gotten a lot better at finding the strike zone since he ditched the idea of trying to strike everybody out. He knows he’s not going to be able to do that at the college level.
“I’ve been picking the brains of a few of my old teammates about what Division I baseball is like and most of them say that if you can command two pitches, you’ll be good. Commanding the zone is something I’m really pushing for. I threw more strikes (this spring) but I want to be able to paint the corners on guys. My breaking pitches are pretty good, I just have to hone in on the strike zone with my fastball. My mechanics have cleaned up a little bit and I’ve gotten stronger, and my baseball I.Q. has gotten better. I also think I’m more calm out there. I’m able to control my thoughts more and not get riled up as much,” Edwardi said. “I just have to not have that mentality of trying to strike everyone out and pitch to contact more. That’s where a lot of my walks come from, trying to overpower people. You have to be able to adjust. Hits are going to come and extra-base hits are going to come, so I just have to learn how to move on from that, shake it off and keep going.”
One thing that made Edwardi such a solid high school baseball player was that each year he knew his role, and not only accepted it, but excelled at it. As a sophomore, he was part of a state championship-winning team — the first in school history — and he contributed as a back-up infielder and pitcher. As a junior, he was expected to help lead the way offensively, and all he did was hit better than .400. As a senior, he was expected to be one of the aces of the pitching staff as well as a leader, and he did both of those things well.
“I feel like I shifted into where I wanted to be and things started clicking my junior year,” Edwardi said. “With the bat I was more confident in everything I did, and even defensively I had more confidence. There’s no easy way to go into (being a varsity starter). Baseball is baseball and you have to play your hardest. The competition, initially, was hard to adjust to but like with anything, the more you do it the easier it gets.”
Edwardi credits Bristol and the Ocean City coaching staff with helping to turn him into a Division I baseball player.
“Bristol was great throughout this whole season, and he and I have had a great relationship throughout the years. He gets me more than any other coach I’ve had,” Edwardi said. “Him and I just click. Even with the move to outfield — sometimes it’s hard, you want to win so much but you don’t take into account how much stress you’re putting on your arm (by playing shortstop as well). Playing shortstop is a burden in and of itself, then trying to go out the next day and throw 80 or 90 pitches, that’s tough. It’s great to have a coach that you feel like you’re on the same page with.”
Edwardi said he doesn’t look back at his high school career with any regrets, and that he enjoyed being part of the winning tradition at Ocean City High.
“The best part about playing at Ocean City is the camaraderie. All the guys click and we all back each other up; we’re all on the same page. Especially in the playoffs, we all mold together into one unit. It’s never an ‘I’ game, it’s a team win and team moments when we have success in the playoffs,” Edwardi said. “I’ve been playing with these guys since I was 8 years old, all throughout travel ball, but I’m excited for college baseball. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“One of the things that he is, that’s helped us, is he’s a gamer,” Bristol said. “He’ll take the ball in a big spot, he wants the at-bat in a big spot — he’ll never back down from a big spot. No moment is too big for him. There’s no fear in him. He carries himself with a lot of confidence. That’s not arrogance, that’s ‘I’m not afraid of the moment.’ And that’s huge for a team.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
SENIOR SPOTLIGHT: Dante Edwardi was ready for anything during his Ocean City High baseball career
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN