In 1999, Bob Sherwin wrote in the Times about the men who came to visit Edgar at his winter home in Dorado, the living room filling up early in the morning with pilgrims who arrived “hats in hand, with bats and gloves,” maintaining a respectful silence—as one does in a holy place—but bursting at the seams with desire to see the local boy made good, the man they called “El Papá” long before he acquired that nickname in the Mariners clubhouse. They wanted to work out with him or watch him or just be in his presence, to study how he made the leap from a small town from the north central part of the island, half an hour from San Juan, to the big leagues.
Like many tourist destinations in the Caribbean, Dorado is a town of two faces. On the one hand, the tourist industry centered around the town’s luxurious golf courses, places like the 5.75 million-dollar “Celebrity Heritage” estate listed on Christie’s as being “within the Ritz Carlton Reserve”—translation, safe for wealthy Americans who want to get away but not be exposed to too much local color. On the other hand: a 20% unemployment rate, 35.6% of its inhabitants living below the poverty rate, and over half its population of children living in families that receive public assistance. Currently, the tourist industry on the island has taken a hit because of the Zika virus, so even those at the upper ends of the socioeconomic spectrum in Dorado may soon feel the effects.
Edgar has always been keenly aware of his roots. He almost didn’t want to come play ball for the Mariners at all, even after cousin Carmelo convinced him to go to a tryout with Marty Martinez (no relation), the Mariners’ scout, because he didn’t want to leave his grandparents without any help. He was working nights at a pharmaceutical company at the time—Dorado’s other main industry, besides tourism—and going to business school during the day, intent on helping his grandparents, who were hard-working but in poor health. His grandfather, a cab driver, had two vans that needed to be washed every day. His grandmother had a heart condition and needed medicine. Edgar had already rejected leaving them once, when the rest of his family moved back to New York; a young Edgar sat on the roof of his grandparents’ home and refused to come down.
When Edgar finally returned to Dorado, which means “golden” in Spanish, he came back as the golden son; he never thought twice about offering a hand to those who came behind him. When Edgar was given the job of hitting coach towards the end of the 2015 season, many theorized it was a publicity stunt, a feel-good move by a failing regime; Edgar had never been a coach, after all. But they weren’t there on those winter mornings in Dorado, the line of pilgrims out the door eager to catch even a glimpse of El Papá. As Edgar said at the time, with typical humility, "I think I understand where I am in my career, and I think I can impact on some Latin players." Edgar as hitting coach simply continues a legacy begun over fifteen years ago. There is a brotherhood among Latin players, those who grew up revering the Alous, Rod Carew, Orlando Cepeda, or—Edgar’s hero—Roberto Clemente. And while Edgar may be too humble to add his own name to that list, other Latin players will do it for him; including those he coaches at the major-league level. It’s a far cry from the young hopefuls who crowded his living room by sunrise each morning, but the impact is no less powerful.