In looking at Eddie Ashley’s role model, it’s not hard to see where he gets his non-stop energy from.
It took all he had to keep up with big brother Keith.
“My brother is five years older than me,” Ashley said. “I always had competition with him when I’d go out and play sports with him. I guess that pushed me and made me what I am today.
“He’s a marine, he’s gonna be a state trooper. He’ll push you. He’s definitely a big role model. He’s had a big impact on my life.”
Ashley, in turn, has had a big impact on athletics at Steinert and Hamilton Post 31.
Despite not playing football until his freshman year in high school, Ashley made himself into an All-Conference defensive back and helped the Spartans to three straight state playoff appearances when he made varsity as a sophomore.
In baseball, which he has played all his life, Ashley has been a varsity outfielder since his sophomore year and this past spring he was one of the top players in the Colonial Valley Conference. The senior hit .468 with 26 runs scored, 16 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 20 attempts.
He continued that torrid pace in legion, hitting well over .300 through the season’s first three weeks. Ashley said he’s not surprised that he didn’t hit a lull during the break between high school and legion.
“I’ve been seeing the ball good all year,” he said. “We have a great coaching staff in legion and at Steinert. I’m just seeing the ball good I guess.”
Despite his solid numbers, statistics may take a backseat to Ashley’s intangible value to a team. The way Ashley plays the game, teammates would be ashamed if they gave less than 100 percent.
“Eddie’s just a baseball player,” Post 31 manager Rick Freeman said. “There’s some guys who play baseball, he’s a baseball player. I’m sure (Spartan football coach) Dan Caruso would say there’s some guys who play football, but Eddie’s a football player.
“He’s just one of those kids who loves to play. His enthusiasm and energy and his commitment to whatever he’s doing rubs off on his teammates. It certainly rubs off on the coaches.”
With a young Steinert team this year, coach Brian Giallella needed some leaders. Ashley came made to order.
“His type of play was exactly the reason why we had the success we had this year,” Giallella said. “We only won 17 games but we had maybe less talent than in the past, and we grinded out wins and played hard all the time.
“Eddie’s attitude and that type of play showed all the younger kids how to play the game. That’s gonna roll over for next year, roll over for this summer. And that’s the way to approach life. He’s such a great kid.”
Asked if Ashley has ever taken a play off, Freeman and Giallella couldn’t say “no” fast enough.
“Not yet,” Freeman said. “And I don’t anticipate ever seeing it.”
“The first thing I said when I saw him play for our legion team is that he plays the game hard all the time,” Giallella said. “He never stops, never takes a pitch off, never takes a play off, never takes an at-bat off.
“I’m not going to say he’s always going to be successful and get a hit or make every play or steal every base. But he runs hard, he plays the game hard, that’s the only way to do it.”
It’s not surprising. In having to keep up with a future marine as a little kid, Ashley certainly had to stay focused in order to survive.
Ashley, who is as likeable off the field as he is intense on it, says the degree of aggression is different between football and baseball, but there is a common thread that keeps his motor running.
“I try to go out with the same mindset, I try to win the game,” Ashley said. “I’m pretty aggressive when it comes to that. I want to win so I guess that’s what it is.”
Giallella completely agreed with that theory.
“He just wants to win, those kind of guys aren’t around anymore,” the Spartan coach said. “We need that back in sport. That guy who’s unselfish and plays for the love of the game and plays hard all the time.
“He plays the game hard, he’s steady with his play. He’s never too down when he doesn’t do well; never too up when he does well. He’s just even keeled but plays hard all the time. You can come to a game and not know how many hits he has based on how he’s playing the game.”
Ashley’s talents are not just at the plate. He is also one of the top outfielders in the CVC and the Mercer County American Legion League.
His performance is enhanced by his work ethic, but he has talent to start with.
“He’s a good athlete, that’s a large part of it; but a lot of it too, is what’s inside of him,” Freeman said. “I tell the players a lot, ‘I can’t put greatness into you, it’s either in there or it’s not. But if it is in there, we can pull it out of you.’
“That’s the case with Eddie. Although really, when it comes to him, he pulls it out of himself. We don’t do a thing.”
Despite being a CVC star, Ashley was not on the radar of many four-year college coaches, and will play for Mercer County Community College next fall.
“There’s the size issue,” Freeman said of Ashley, who stands below six feet. “He’s one of those guys you gotta see every day. I know from my experience (as a Rutgers coach) the rules don’t allow you to go out and see guys that much to be able to follow guys all season.
“You’re allowed to see them seven times. It doesn’t give you a lot of chances to see a guy succeed and fail and see how he handles both. They’ll get to see it at Mercer, he’ll be tremendous. He’ll be a heck of a college player.”
While Ashley would have liked to have gone to a four-year school, he feels that Mercer is not a bad option.
“Mercer’s one of the best junior college programs in the country in their division,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that and going there with Dave (Osnato) and (Brandon) Kirk from West. They definitely get looks from other schools at Mercer. Their coach told me they send like, five kids every year to D-1 schools. That excites me.”
And there’s nothing more fun, than watching an exciting player who’s excited about playing.
Then again, there has never been a time when Ashley wasn’t excited about playing.