During his years as a Cougar baseball player, Dave Edler got chewed out many times by Bobo Brayton for his wild and headstrong ways. Once, Brayton caught his young star using marijuana. Edler told the coach that his father didn’t mind.
“We’ll see,” Brayton said, and phoned Edler’s father in Yakima. That resulted in “the fastest trip a guy ever took to Pullman from Yakima,” Brayton recently recalled with a laugh.
Edler left WSU in 1978, a few credits short of graduation, when he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He says he learned lots of lessons from the legendary coach, among them that “the only thing fun about baseball is winning.”
Dave Edler baseball card (Courtesy Baseball Almanac)
But despite Brayton’s efforts to guide and reform him, Edler’s years as a Cougar and as a Mariner were marked by heavy drinking and drug use. What started him on the road to recovery was a revelation while riding the bus with the minor leagues after which he felt compelled to seek out a Christian teammate. That and reading books about Christianity caused him to become concerned about the spiritual lives of the other men on the team. He even started a “baseball chapel” to provide services for his friends on the road.
In 1984, after a sporadic four years of playing for the Mariners, mostly at third base, Edler broke free of his addictions. He also left pro ball, angry after not landing a permanent spot on the Mariners’ roster and determined to be a success at something else.
Since then, Edler has parlayed his athletic fame, eloquence, and charisma into becoming the head pastor at one of Yakima’s largest evangelical churches as well as the mayor of his home town. His leadership style blends Bobo-isms, pop culture, Alcoholics Anonymous, and lessons from the life of Jesus.
He has also mentored a number of teens through Young Life, a nondenominational Christian youth program, and through coaching American Legion and high school baseball. His skill at working with young people led to the assistant pastorship at the Yakima Foursquare Church in 1994.
While he often speaks of the importance of faith and prayer, Edler isn’t quick to make moral judgments and generally avoids mixing church and state. He jokes at his own expense and frequently brings up his own youthful struggles with addiction and with his alcoholic father. “We start to look for love in all the wrong places,” he said in a recent sermon to nearly 400 people at the Yakima Foursquare Church. “I can sing you Mickey Gilley’s song because I danced to it.”
Now, having helped Yakima reduce crime, redevelop downtown, and improve its public image, Edler, 52, a Republican, is mulling his political future. He blends a pro-business stand with a willingness to consider new taxes, belief in the role of government, and support for legalizing undocumented workers. On the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, Edler says simply: “Building walls and deporting people—that’s insanity to me. People have always come to this nation wanting opportunity.”
“I think he has the potential for higher office and would have no problem getting elected,” says Yakima County Democratic Party chairman Paul George, who served with Edler on the city council. “I would hope he’d run as a Democrat.”
Edler has eschewed partisan politics during more than four years on the city council, the last two as mayor. He believes the U.S. political system is “broken” due to excessive partisanship, and that is blocking the nation from solving “the huge issues of our time.”
“If anyone could change partisan politics, it would be Dave,” says fellow council member Neil McClure, a 1980 WSU graduate. “He has great presence and is a real calming influence. His strength is standing back and saying, ‘Where do we want to go and how do we get there?'”
Edler came to WSU after a stellar career in American Legion and high school baseball, including pitching his team to the 1975 American Legion World Series championship. As a pitcher, infielder, and outfielder for the Cougs, he helped the team win the Northern Division championship all four years he played. In his second year, he helped the team advance to the College World Series. In his fourth year, he led the PAC-10 in hitting.
He wasn’t so successful in his studies. He drifted from hotel management to general business to general studies. He admits that “much of my college experience was partying” and that he was “the leader of the wrong crowd.”
Brayton says he was surprised and pleased that Edler went into the ministry and then politics, but that “the potential was always there.” He recalls young Edler pitching a playoff game against Arizona State, on a 116-degree scorcher of a day, to determine who would go to the College World Series. Edler threw a complete game, losing a 4-3 heartbreaker. “Dave was a tough competitor, a real tough kid,” he says.
For his part, Edler has fond memories of Brayton, who visited Yakima this May to be honored with a Bobo Brayton Day proclamation. The event was a more pleasant occasion than one decades earlier when Brayton threw a fungo bat high in the air and bellowed at Edler because he defied a rule against pitchers throwing during batting practice. On that day Brayton charged up to him yelling and spraying spit all over the front of Edler’s uniform. “I looked down to see how wet I was, and he started laughing,” Edler recalls. “He wiped me off and said, ‘Quit throwing in the cage.'”