Edward Paparella has lived out a baseball journey that has taught him so much and brought him all across the country.
When the new baseball season is allowed to start, the former Howard Hawk player and coach will be taking on his new job as a hitting coach in the Seattle Mariners minor league system.
The Skillman, New Jersey native began his life and baseball career in the small, country town that was an hour drive south from New York City. Skillman was a baseball town where it seemed as all the best athletes found their way onto the baseball diamond every spring.
“It’s farmland and cornfields,” Paparella said. “It was a great place to grow up. All the kids played baseball all the way through the summer. There was a district All-Star team that I would play for during the summer from the time I was eight years old all the way until I was 15. For about seven consecutive summers I played with the same exact group of guys from my town.”
When it came time for Paparella to choose which college he would attend, he decided on St. John’s University. St. John’s is a private university in New York City where the average enrollment hovers around 20,000 students. The baseball team has been consistently one of the nation’s best and has made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances since the turn of the century.
The small-town shortstop arrived on campus with the feeling that he was prepared for the jump to the college-level after a successful high school career. But things changed quickly for Paparella and following his fall semester the future coach spoke with his parents and decided that it would be best for him to leave St. John’s.
“Being from where I was and then moving into a big city was a really, really big transition for me,” Paparella said. “I thought I was excited for college, and I was excited, I just wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. I think athletically I was ready for it, but in terms of being mature enough to go off and be on my own was a lot for me.”
The next stop for Paparella was a two-year pitstop as a Howard Hawk at the junior college-level. Former Hawks head coach Rob Martinez recruited the aggressive bat of Paparella to join his team in Big Spring for the 2014-15 seasons. During his tenure at Howard, the Hawks won back-to-back Western Junior College Athletic Conference (WJCAC) regular season titles.
Paparella’s freshman year at Howard was one of his most efficient ever on the field. In only 23 games played, he recorded a .333 batting average that included three doubles, two triples, 22 runs batted in, 23 runs scored, and five stolen bases. All the breakout performer did to follow up his impressive freshman season was produce even more during his sophomore campaign.
He played a total of 54 games as a sophomore and was able to keep his batting average above .300 for the second consecutive season (.309). Paparella added 12 doubles, one triple, 11 home runs, 39 runs batted in, 45 runs scored, and five stolen bases.
While playing at the junior college-level may not have always been in the planning for Paparella, the skilled infielder made the most of his time in Big Spring and left town with many lessons learned.
“The biggest thing I’ll remember from junior college and my time at Howard is the family-like feel to it,” Paparella said. “I can’t really tell you of a time I had more fun playing baseball than with the group at Howard in 2015. We all took the field and it just felt right. It was just a lot of fun and is something I’ll always remember and always cherish about my time at Howard.”
South Alabama was the next stop on the list for the big man from New Jersey. The Cougars play at the Division I level in the Sun Belt Conference and were the first school to offer him a scholarship during his time at Howard.
Paparella was strong at the plate during his time in Mobile and tied a school record for hitting safely in 26 games. The college town feel and beautiful stadium that sit on the campus were selling points during Paparella’s recruitment and the small-town atmosphere helped the heavy hitter feel more comfortable and be able to produce on the field during his time there.
Following an injury during his senior year, Paparella decided that he was going to change his career path from potential big league player to potential big league coach.
“Last year in 2019 was my last year playing, so this whole coaching thing is very new to me,” Paparella said. “But I’ve loved every second of it and really couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
While at Howard, Paparella met the man that would help him live out his newfound dream of being a coach in a Major League system. Jarret DeHart was a teammate of Paparella with the Hawks in 2015 and is now the Mariners’ big league assistant hitting coach. After spending two years in the minors, DeHart is now a big league coach and told Paparella of an opportunity to get his foot in the door in the Seattle organization.
“I ended up interviewing with the Mariners this past winter and had a couple of rounds of interviews with them,” Paparella said.
In the following months, the Seattle farm director called to offer Paparella a position on the minor league coaching staff in Arizona. With the uncertainty surrounding this past junior college baseball season, he accepted the job and will start once the current health crisis is resolved.
Many baseball journies are described as a roller coaster and that is exactly what category Paparella falls under.
“There was times where I was on top of the world and times where I was down and getting kicked around. Through all of that, I never knew how it was going to end up or where I was going to end up but I always had faith in the Lord that he was going to put me where he wanted me to be.”
The ex-slugger’s next stop will now be coaching high-level players that are trying to earn their way to the majors, which is a dream of his own that has recently been put to rest. Paparella will now be working the hardest he ever has to make sure his players are able to fulfill their own Major League dreams.
One thing is for certain: Edward Paparella is exactly where he is supposed to be.
Shawn Moran is the sportswriter at the Big Spring Herald. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 432-263-7331.