Hayden Edwards, who started Wednesday night’s game for the Jayhawks at Kauffman Stadium, has an official MLB page on Baseball Reference’s website. He has the Kansas City Royals to thank for that.
Four years ago, the Overland Park native was selected in the 31st round of the MLB draft by his hometown team. He elected to go to college instead.
Wednesday was the reverse homecoming. In his first start of the season, Edwards allowed two runs — one earned — in three innings during KU’s 3-1 loss to Nebraska in front of 2,386 fans.
“I was just happy I got to play in one of the best ballparks in America,” Edwards said.
A 6-foot-8 right-hander, Edwards also was playing just down the road from Blue Valley High, his alma mater. Over his final two years there, he posted a 1.95 ERA with 109 strikeouts, with his team finishing runner-up in 5A his senior season.
Ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the state by Perfect Game USA, Edwards had a choice to make after his senior year. After getting drafted by the Royals, he decided the best option was going to KU.
“I just felt like I could benefit a lot from college, being on my own but not too far away,” Edwards said. “I was really young, pretty immature, so I needed some time to find myself and grow up a little bit.”
Edwards showed both flashes of dominance and inconsistency Wednesday. He was overwhelming in the first, striking out the side while working around a two-out single.
“You couldn’t ask for better than that,” Edwards said. “I just felt really good and wasn’t thinking too much. I was just going out and throwing, just enjoying the moment.”
He suffered from shaky command after that. In the second, he walked Scott Schreiber before hitting Jesse Wilkening in the helmet. After a popped-up bunt and another walk, Edwards escaped any damage after getting Steven Reveles to ground into a double play.
He wasn’t as fortunate in the third after another walk and hit by pitch. A Schreiber single scored one, and later a wild pitch brought home Jake Meyers to push Nebraska’s lead to 2-0.
KU coach Ritch Price admitted afterward that he was trying to ride a good-luck string of starting hometown kids at Kauffman Stadium. In three of his team’s four previous victories against Missouri in the MLB ballpark, he’d started a pitcher from the metro area.
“It worked before,” Price said. “It didn’t work tonight.”
Trailing 3-1, KU put together a final rally in the ninth with two walks and a single to load the bases with two outs, but Tommy Mirabelli grounded out to first to end the game. Nebraska, 26-15, improved to 150-101-2 all-time against KU.
KU fell to 4-2 in games at Kauffman Stadium, with its only other loss coming in a 1979 exhibition against the Royals. The Jayhawks, 17-23-1, hadn’t played in Kauffman Stadium since 2011, when they defeated Missouri, 7-1.
Price said the experience was memorable, especially for the local players on his roster. Royals general manager Dayton Moore came to the dugout to talk to the players before the game, telling them he had followed a few of their games on ESPN3.
“It’s always good to see him,” Price said. “He’s a wonderful man.”
Edwards, a senior, is finishing up a four-year career at KU. He had 10 combined appearances in his first two years before serving as a swingman in 2015, posting a 6.82 ERA in 33 innings.
This year, he’d notched a 6.17 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 11 walks in 23 1/3 innings before Wednesday’s start.
The inconsistent results haven’t kept Edwards from enjoying his career at KU.
“I’ve loved it. I’ve had a great time. I’ve met some of my best friends in my whole life here,” Edwards said. “I don’t have any regrets right now.”