He used to spend his springs playing professional baseball or coaching state championship high school teams. Fitting for perhaps the greatest athlete that’s ever come out of Warwick.
The last few years, Ed Walsh spent the spring season coaching a Warwick Vets golf team that had mostly brand new golfers and rarely contended for much of anything.
Maybe that was fitting, too.
Whether he was flashing his own athletic ability, coaching the best, teaching history, helping kids find a path to college as a guidance counselor – or even coaching a not-so-great golf team – he was giving everything he had to athletics and education, and to the kids he met along the way.
Walsh died last week. A husband and a father of three, he was just 48.
It’s a heartbreaking loss for his family. For the Rhode Island sports community that Walsh was such a part of, the news sent ripples so deep that the wake lasted seven hours. The line just kept building.
It was a testament to a man who made an enormous impact.
“He was a gifted athlete and a gifted coach and teacher,” said his uncle, Dick Walsh. “And he touched a lot of people.”
Ed Walsh grew up in Warwick. His father, Ed Walsh Sr., was an athlete then a teacher and coach at Cranston East, before he passed away after a battle with ALS when Ed Jr. was just 6 years old.
Ed Jr. followed in his father’s athletic footsteps and had no shortage of role models even after his father’s death, from his mother to his step-father Charles Sample to his Uncle Dick. On baseball diamonds and in hockey rinks, he found a second home.
“Ed was the big name in the city,” said Mike Kenney, a longtime friend. “He was at Hendricken and he was a year older than me, but you knew who he was. Everybody knew him because he was good at everything.”
His powerful left-handed swing and his uncanny ability to stop hockey pucks made him a star at Bishop Hendricken. He went on to Providence College and continued to excel in both sports. He remains one of the greatest hitters in Friars history.
That would have been plenty for a storied athletic career, but Walsh went on to play both baseball and hockey in the professional ranks. He was a 14th-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in 1987 and played two seasons in the minor leagues. He was also drafted by the NHL’s New Jersey Devils and played in their organization.
“I’d challenge somebody to find a better athlete to come out of Warwick,” said Dave Tober, who played for Walsh at Toll Gate. “To play both those sports at a high level in college is one thing. To do that and bring both to the professional level, it’s amazing.”
If his athletic ability set the stage for all the success, Walsh’s competitive spirit sealed the deal.
“There’s that mentality,” Tober said. “He’s the most intense, fiercest competitor I’ve ever known, by far. He would get that look, and anyone who knows him knows that look.”
The fire didn’t fade when Walsh hung up his cleats and skates. He moved back home. Like his father and his uncle and so many of his mentors, he began teaching and coaching.
His first job was with the Toll Gate baseball team, where he met a 15-year-old Tober and unknowingly set the course for that 15-year-old’s life – like he did for so many.
“As a kid, aside from your dad, it’s people like him that you look up to,” Tober said. “He was just larger than life. Everything he was about, I wanted to be about.”
Tober went on to play college and professional baseball. Like Walsh, he came back home and started teaching and coaching. He’s now an assistant principal at Toll Gate.
It was the Walsh blueprint.
“For lack of better words, I wanted to be him,” Tober said.
Walsh’s coaching career was in its infancy then, but already, his style was well-defined.
He could still wow his players as an idol.
“He would hit batting practice every once in a while,” Tober remembered. “Out of 20 kids on the field, 19 would be out behind the right field fence because that’s the only place he was hitting them.”
He was old-school, demanding, intense.
“Even back then, we were young, but he was just this old-school guy,” said Kenney, who coached with him at several stops. “He was prepared, organized, disciplined. He was fiery. He expected a lot out of the kids.”
In 1991, the Toll Gate baseball team saw the fruits of that when it won the state championship. As Tober remembers it, the Titans were defined by their coach.
“Eighteen guys and he got us to believe what he believed,” Tober said. “Teams were intimidated by us. We had some good players, but it was really because we mirrored our coach. We just played so hard.”
Wherever Walsh’s career took him, that was the trademark for his teams, no matter the uniform. He won a hockey championship with Warwick Vets and went on to coach at Bishop Hendricken. Everywhere, the message was the same.
“We’re in Class C and he’s talking like we’re playing Mount every game,” said Kenney, who coached with him at Vets. “Just that pride in your team and in what you’re doing, he instilled that.”
His uncle Dick, a longtime coach and athletic director in Warwick, teamed up with him on the bench at several stops. For all the intensity, he also saw a deeply caring side.
“I heard a quote once that you can fool a fool, you can con a con but you can’t kid a kid,” Dick Walsh said. “Kids know if you really care, if you’re there for them, if you’re putting in the time, and they knew that Ed was. He was always willing to put the time in. Kids played and they played their hearts out for him.”
Walsh continued teaching at Warwick Vets, where he also served as a guidance counselor. He led the Vets golf team and helped out on several coaching staffs over the years, most recently with Mike Gaffney and the La Salle hockey program, where sons Cameron and Tyler played. It was an opportunity he cherished.
“He was such an unbelievable guy, he was the best dad and the best role model,” Tober said. “His legacy lives on with his three boys. They’ll carry him on.”
And they won’t be the only ones doing so. Dick Walsh said the family was touched by the outpouring of support at the services and beyond. It didn’t make it easier, but it did resonate.
It was one more cheer for a man who heard plenty.
“They came in droves – so much love and support,” Dick Walsh said. “It brought us joy to say, ‘Look at the number of people he touched.’”
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and williamg@ rhodybeat.com.