On Saturday, August 22, 2022, the Boyertown Legion Baseball program lost a legend when long-time assistant coach Craig Eddinger passed away unexpectedly. Craig's impact on the program, over 32 years as Assistant Coach with Head Coach Rick Moatz and continuing in various roles for several more years with new Bears Head Coach Justin Konnick, cannot be measured. He was a friend and mentor to many, and his presence at the baseball field will be sorely missed.
During the summer of 2022, Craig was honored by the Bears when his number 11 was retired. Craig expressed how moved he was by the ceremony and how happy he was to be able to celebrate the moment with his wife, daughters, and grandchildren. We are glad we got to celebrate the moment with you, Craig, especially in retrospect, since none of us knew at the time how little time remained for you to be with us.
It is difficult to capture what Craig meant to not only the Bears baseball program but to so many who considered him a friend. The following two tributes to Craig, first from a Bears player and second from Bears historian and scorekeeper Rob Zambinini, put into words what so many of us were and are feeling about Craig and his legacy:
Anonymous player tribute to Craig:
There’s no crying in baseball, but there definitely is crying in life. When baseball becomes life, the between emotions are blurred, and the words of Tom Hanks and Jim Valvano start to twist together until a burst of emotion comes forth. I was called out at third in extra innings about a year ago. Naturally, I assumed I was safe, but this time I knew that I was. For the third time in the game, a bad call had gone to our rival’s side. Coach Craig had my side, strongly demanding to the umpire that the calls needed to be correct. “I want the calls right!” he cried. It was a Major League ejection, the type of scene that you only see on old highlight reels. I felt like I was at a Major League playoff game. Win or lose, Craig’s fervor crept into our own hearts, and we played with our all. Storming off the field that night to watch from the distant bleachers, there were tears in his eyes. A week later, as our summer season ended, Craig said goodbye to the seniors who had played their last at historic Bear Stadium. There were tears in his eyes. Months later, as Craig announced his likely retirement, I couldn’t help but notice a theme: there were tears in his eyes. The emotion he showed was not a fading of professionalism; it was professionalism. Craig cared more than anyone, not just about winning, but about the beauty of a sport that has the power to change lives.
The following year, Craig would still be around. He couldn’t help it. To him, it was always a beautiful day for baseball. As the sunset over the scoreboard on one of many beautiful baseball days in his career, Boyertown had a chance to appreciate it with him. After 35 years of dedicated service, Boyertown announced that they would be retiring Craig’s number, cementing his name in local immortality. I’m never moved by accolades, medals, and plaques. To be honest, I doubt Craig was either. But this was different. Seeing a town unite over baseball was all Craig ever dreamed of. And for once in his life, baseball was able to give him just a fraction of all that he had given in return. There were tears in his eyes as he kissed his wife and grandchildren.
When I got home that night, there were tears in mine as well. I loved Craig. Not because he appreciated a good bunt, although he certainly did, but because he loved life and every opportunity he was given. If that means that tears fall on a baseball diamond, then I’m right there with you.
Rob Zambinini tribute to Craig:
This past Sunday of Labor Day Weekend marked the 40th anniversary of the Boyertown’s history-making first American Legion baseball title. As is well known, that title was won here in Boyertown, in the inaugural season of Boyertown’s Bear Stadium.
However, before any joyous remembrances of the anniversary could take place, the Boyertown Legion Baseball family mourned the loss of long-time assistant coach / business manager Craig Eddinger. “The Craiger,” as he was known, passed away at his home on Saturday, August 27, 2022, at the young age of 68.
Craig’s background and achievements are well-known among the Boyertown faithful. A member of the Legion Bears from 1970-1972 inclusive (including Boyertown’s second State Champion), Craig graduated from Boyertown High School in 1971 and attended St. Joseph’s University, where he not only graduated himself with a degree in Accounting, but continued his baseball prowess (a MAC title and NCAA appearance in his junior year and team captain as a senior) that he was inducted into the St. Joseph’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2019. It was his third Hall of Fame induction, having been inducted into the Tri-County Sports Hall of Fame and the Pennsylvania Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.
And THEN he began the achievement with which all of us Bear fans are REALLY familiar.
In 1988, Craig joined the coaching staff of a rookie head coach named Rick Moatz. It was supposed to be a transition year, perhaps, as Dave Specht had only recently (at that time) replaced legendary coach Dick Ludy and led the Bears to back-to-back Legion World Series appearances, including the program’s second national title (1987). Instead, the Bears, with Craig serving as third-base coach, advanced to the final day of the Legion World Series, capping Boyertown’s decade of domination with a still-standing record 64 victories.
That season began an incredible streak of successful service for Eddinger and the Bears. Craig eventually became Moatz’s right-hand assistant for the team. He then continued in that role – for 32 seasons. Only 2020 and its associated COVID complications could end that streak. (Craig would return as an assistant coach to new head coach Justin Konnick for the 2021 season before moving into a new role as team business manager, a role in which he was in essence serving already)
The Bears achievements during these 32 years are beyond amazing. They won 1311 games with a winning percentage of .776 (including the 2021 season, Eddinger was part of 1335 wins), only once finishing with a winning percentage below .600 (and always finishing above .500). Their winning percentage in regular season league games was an astounding .850. The team won 14 Berks County titles; they won or shared 14 PA Region 2 titles; they took 13 PA State titles; and they triumphed first in 3 Mid-Atlantic Regional titles.
But compiling and reporting those facts, however amazing they are, is the easy part of this article for this scribe. Craig, you see, was more than just a coach to me. He was a good friend and, to be complete, an amazing person. It is rather emotionally difficult for me to adequately express these characteristics in words. Yes, Craig was an outstanding coach – in an 2005 interview for the author’s article honoring Craig for his Hall of Fame induction, Moatz commented “He certainly has the knowledge and the ability to be a head coach … I have a lot of confidence in him. I trust what he does. I trust the way he handles kids.” And yes, he was even more than that: an outstanding role model for the young men who participated in the program.
But he was even MORE than that. Craig’s knowledge of the game was so vast that there were times when he grasped certain game situations better than umpires and even statisticians (such as a recent game at West Lawn in which Craig’s accurate interpretation of a tag-out on a sacrifice fly resulted in a successful appeal of the game’s final score). His attention to detail was mind-boggling – there were several times were his questioning of certain statistical minutiae caused me to make necessary corrections to the official team statistics.
And THAT doesn’t even reflect the characteristics of the man that impressed me most. Craig was always a welcoming, grateful friend, ready to greet me at the park and thanking me for the volunteer work that I love doing. His temper (if one wants to use a strong term for it) was so controlled that, despite being close to him in many a tense, critical moment, I only once saw him get very visibly angry (just after Game 11 of the 2008 Mid-Atlantic Regionals).
On the contrary, Craig’s most amazing asset was his ability to remain calm enough to critically analyze a situation, no matter how grave it appeared. This ability manifested itself in a sense of humor that began to cause me to frequently interrupt conversations to comment on its uniqueness (and ask him where he developed that skill!).
Perhaps Craig Eddinger’s greatest legacy, however, is reflected in a comment that he made to me for that aforementioned article in 2005. . “. . . [Don Specht, Dick Ludy, and Ribby Houck] helped me get into college, play four years of college baseball, [and] get a college degree and I owe that to the Legion program,” he said. “So in 1988, when Rick gave me this opportunity to help out it was an opportunity for me to give something back to the program that helped me so much as a young man.” That statement is the ultimate fulfillment of Don Specht’s vision of community giving back to itself.
Craig Eddinger is one of the many giants who helped the Boyertown American Legion Baseball achieve its many legendary accomplishments. But unlike the other legends, whom I knew and respected but at sort of a “distance,” I worked directly and closely with Craig. I saw his amazing persona in action – and I saw its results in 1335 wins over an amazing 30+ years. Perhaps you will thus understand why it is so noticeably difficult for me to prepare this article. Nevertheless, I have attempted to do so with this memorial to Craig.
In closing, the late musician Charlie Daniels may have been referring to other musicians when he made the following quote, but it is still most certainly applicable to my dear friend Craig Eddinger: “But it's all right now \ Keep on singing loud \ It's all right now \ Heaven should be proud.”