BOSTON — At a special camp for Boston Red Sox prospects earlier this month, Rich Gedman stood with other coaches as reporters gathered around the likes of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts.
More than 30 years ago, it was Gedman’s turn as a prospect. He not only was moving up the Boston system, Gedman’s task was monumental – replace the already-legendary Carlton Fisk.
He did that, making two All-Star Games and catching the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series – a memory that becomes more sweet and less bitter with time.
Gedman, 53, can share much with these prospects – the perspective of a player, manager, coach and father. He can speak of the glories of the game and its disappointments. He has witnessed players fulfill their promise while others fell short because of inability, injury or, in one instance, death.
This baseball season, Gedman will share his knowledge with the Portland Sea Dogs as their new hitting coach. Gedman replaces Dave Joppie, who was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket.
The Sea Dogs are getting a native New Englander.
“I never stopped being a Red Sox fan,” he said.
Gedman grew up in Worcester, Mass., played ball for Worcester High and was signed by Boston as a 17-year-old free agent in 1977. He reached the majors by 1980 and was a regular the next year, when Fisk signed with the Chicago White Sox.
Gedman played on the famous 1986 team that beat the Angels in the American League Championship Series, coming back from a 3-1 deficit.
In Game 5, Gedman went 4 for 4 with a two-run homer, but he is best known for being hit by a pitch – with two outs in the ninth, no one on and Boston trailing, 5-4.
“At first I was angry, then I realized I’m on base. We’re still alive,” Gedman said.
Dave Henderson followed with a home run. Boston eventually won the game in the 11th inning, and then took Games 6 and 7.
“We found a way to do it,” Gedman said. “Very similar to the way (the Mets won the World Series).”
In the 1986 World Series, Boston led the Mets 3-2 and, in Game 6, was ahead by two runs in the 10th inning. New York rallied with three runs in the bottom of the 10th – something about a ground ball through the first baseman’s legs – to win.
The Mets then won Game 7 to complete the devastating comeback.
“It keeps running through your head: We were close. We were very close,” Gedman said. “It was frustrating. I was even angry for a little while.
“To me it cut deeper, growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts. Being a Red Sox fan since I can remember. Everything was the Red Sox. What it would have been for a Worcester kid to be part of a world championship team.”
As the years go by, Gedman’s frustration has softened,
“I have a much deeper appreciation for my teammates and how hard it was to get to the World Series,” he said.
“You can go into whys and hows (Boston lost). As a player, I never looked at someone else’s fault. We didn’t do it and they did.
“Sometimes you don’t appreciate the grind. It’s always the outcome that’s disappointing – that you fail. We didn’t fail. We actually had a great year.”
Gedman’s career with Boston lasted into the 1990 season. He was traded to Houston and then finished his career with the Cardinals in 1991-92.
Gedman got into coaching in the independent leagues and eventually became manager of the Worcester Tornadoes in 2005.
It was with Worcester that Gedman managed a pitcher named Greg Montalbano, a one-time Red Sox prospect who pitched in Portland in 2003 and 2004. Montalbano battled cancer in college and later in his pro career. Still, he was always giving, helping out with the Maine Children’s Cancer Program and Boston’s Jimmy Fund. Montalbano’s career ended with Worcester in 2006. He died Aug. 21, 2009, at the age of 31.
Gedman was not expecting a question about Montalbano. When I mentioned his name, Gedman let out a deep breath, emotion instantly showing on his face.
“Wow,” Gedman said, pausing for a moment. “He was so special.
“He was one of those guys. You couldn’t tell anything was wrong. He was going through all these problems and always saying, ‘I’m OK.’
“I don’t know many people who could live so much in such a short life.”
Gedman managed in Worcester through 2010 before joining the Red Sox organization as hitting coach for the Lowell Spinners in 2011. That year he briefly coached his son, Matthew, an infielder drafted in the 45th round that year.
Last year, Rich coached in advanced Class A Salem, while Matthew, 24, played in Lowell again.
“He is still trying to find out what pro ball is all about,” Rich said. “As dad, all I can tell him is to make the best of it. Enjoy it. Appreciate this game.”
Rich Gedman appreciates it. And soon he will bring that appreciation to Hadlock Field. The new hitting coach will teach fundamentals. But the veteran also has a lifetime of experiences to share.
Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or: