SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – As Eric Edwards admires Petco Park from Gallagher Square, it’s clear that most Padres fans aren't used to seeing him on this side of the ballpark’s fences.
“That's around second base. That is where magic has happened,” he says while pointing to the infield.
It's down there, near second base where we're used to seeing him. After decades of breaking out his signature moves at games, Edwards hung up his rake last August.
It all started about 35 years ago, almost by accident, when his friend's brother canceled.
“His brother couldn't do it the next season, so he called me up saying you want to do it. I said, ‘Sounds like fun.’”
The fun started at the old Jack Murphy Stadium. Then after a few years off, Eric returned for a big night. The padres final game at the “Q.”
“The last night at Qualcomm Stadium was called Old School Night. They brought back all the old ballplayers, the chicken, remember the KGB Chicken, brought him back and they tracked me down. They said, ‘You've been highly requested to dance you know, last night’ and I said why not?”
That was September 2003. But an even bigger night was still to come.
“So Petco Park, first game, first opened. They gave me not only my ticket, they gave me a field pass and press box pass,” says Eric as he holds up those passes now framed.
“Now this here, it was what blew me away. The next day after opening day that Petco Park opens, first out, first catch, first run, first dance by grounds crew, and that was on the front page.”
Eric points to a framed newspaper clipping showing him dancing during that inaugural game.
April 8th, 2004 was an electric night. The Padres beat the Giants 4 to 3. Former President Jimmy Carter threw out the first pitch.
“I had a friend of mine who was taking pictures. So he's been taking pictures of everything. He had to hold the camera and he didn't switch the disk and he had no pictures left to take a picture of me and President Carter. So I'm like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”
Though he doesn't have that memento, Eric does have the memories, lot of them.
“The fans, fans, fans were everything,” he remembered.
“One of my favorite things is when I finished my routine, I'd point north, south, east and west. I'd point at the crowd and go like this. I do a little spin thing. That was cool,” he said while showing how he would cup his hands to his ears to indicate to the crowd he wanted to hear some noise.
And then there were the players. One who stood out was Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn.
“Oh my God, one of the most awesome human beings you'd ever want to meet. Just a great, great guy.”
Also great, Eric says, were the moments when fans didn't realize he wasn't actually a grounds keeper.
“The cutest thing ever was there's a lady that was in one of the suites, little old black lady probably 80 years old, and she sees me go out there and dance and she said, ‘Oh Lord child, I hope he doesn't lose his job.’ And my boss at the time turned and was laughing so hard and had to tell them it's a setup. It's all set up. It's not real.”
What is real is the pure joy in making fans smile, something that was hard to give up.
When asked if he was at all sad that he retired right before last year’s exciting post-season run heading into a new season of high hopes, Eric replied, “I get to be a fan now.”
He added, “It's just been a blast and I will never ever forget, never forget how much fun I've had here… oh, I'm going to miss it. I'm going to totally miss it, but like I said, I'll be here now as a fan.”
Eric says he’ll be in the stands on Opening Day to cheer the Padreson. How much the fan base has grown is probably the biggest change he's noticed in all his years. As for how he’s keeping busy, he's a massage therapist, has his own production company, writes books and sells sports gear. Clearly, he’s dancing through life too.