Eric Wedge remembers when he first visited Wichita in 1986 and was treated to Pizza Hut. Wedge also remembers a few years later when the Wichita State baseball team won its College World Series title in 1989.
“I remember going to Pizza Hut and everyone always had to go there when they came to town,” said Wedge, who was one of the inductees into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday night. “It was a big deal to people in the area.”
Wedge played for Gene Stephenson and the Shockers from 1987 to 1989 before being selected in the third round of the 1989 amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox. Wedge battled injuries and eight surgeries throughout his nine-year playing career in the minor leagues and major leagues.
“It meant the world to us guys to win the College World Series,” Wedge said. “It meant a lot not only to the city of Wichita and Wichita State, but also to the whole state of Kansas. I think we were the first college baseball team to visit the White House, so that was a great experience for us to have with us the rest of our lives.”
Wedge finished his playing career in 1997 and then made his managerial debut with the Columbus RedStixx, the Class-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. Wedge went on to manage the Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners over a 10-year period.
“There’s nothing like playing the game,” Wedge said. “But being able to transition into the minor leagues and then of course 10 years in the major leagues was a great thrill to me.”
Wedge thought the transition went pretty smoothly and being a catcher at Wichita State was a big help.
“The catcher is the leader on the field,” Wedge said. “They should make it their responsibility to know every aspect of the game. Even though you’re catching you’ve got to know everything about the infield, outfield, situations, the opposing batters and especially the pitcher you have in front of you.”
Wedge is the field coordinator for the Toronto Blue Jays organization. He oversees the Blue Jays’ minor-league system, made up of eight teams, 200 players and more than 50 staff members.
“I love what I’m doing now,” Wedge said. “You can impact a lot of lives and I’m doing the best I can to influence these guys that are coming through the system. I’ve always thought it’s a very important role and I’m taking it very seriously.”
For Wedge, being inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame was more than just a plaque with his name.
“Wichita is like family to me,” Wedge said. “Wichita State University is family to me and being inducted into the hall of fame here is a complete honor. There was no way that I was not going to be here tonight.”
Long-time high school and collegiate football coach Dennis Franchione was also inducted on Sunday night and did so in front of 50 family members, former players and friends. Franchione spent 40 years coaching and made a positive impact on many former players.
“I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity,” Franchione said. “It was good to see so many former players of mine come out and show their support. I guess that means I did my job of being a coach that made an impact on their lives.”
The adjustment from coaching at Peabody-Burns High in 1976 to the sidelines at K-State in 1978 as an assistant didn’t make a big difference to Franchione.
“I enjoyed all my time coaching,” Franchione said. “I enjoyed every level that I was able to coach at and the people I was able to meet at each place. I didn’t really change much as a coach, you adjust to the place you go, because you have strengths and weaknesses at every place you go. It’s like life, you never know what’s going to come at you next.”
Also inducted Sunday was Royals Hall of Famer George Brett, who lives in Johnson County; Kansas All-American track athlete Kristi Koster Burritt; former Heights basketball coach and tennis enthusiast Goose Doughty (posthumously); KU three-sport star Galen Fiss (posthumously); KU cross country champion Al Frame; KU basketball player Dean Kelley (posthumously); Pittsburg State football standout and coach John Levra; former major-league ballplayer Don Lock; junior college women’s basketball coach Jerry McCarty; K-State women’s basketball All-American Priscilla Gary Sweeney; and KU basketball player Jerry Waugh.