Andy Tomberlin has been a lot of places.
He’s seen Atlanta and Pittsburgh, Boston and New York, Oakland and Detroit – and Sydney, Australia, too. But of all the places he’s been, Tomberlin’s home will always be the small town of Monroe, about 25 miles southeast of Charlotte.
“Sometimes you end up where you start,” Tomberlin, now the Charlotte Knights hitting coach, said. “Home is always home.”
On Wednesday night, Tomberlin will represent his hometown team on its biggest stage, the 2016 Triple-A All-Star Game. Pitcher Brad Golberg and head athletic trainer Scott Johnson are the other two Knights in the game, but for Tomberlin, it means much more.
He’ll have finally come full circle.
Inspiration at Crockett Park
Tomberlin got into baseball the way you’d expect a boy from Monroe to – first dad played, then his brother, then him.
He’d travel with his little league team to Crockett Park, the home of the then-Charlotte Orioles.
“There was no major league team unless you go to Atlanta or Baltimore,” Tomberlin said, “so it was my Major League baseball for a kid that was local.”
One game still stands out. Tomberlin was 11, and future-Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray was still in Class AA with the Charlotte O’s. Murray hit two home runs that day, but the way he did it was what stood out to a young Tomberlin.
One Murray hit left-handed. The other, right-handed.
“It was the first time I’d seen anyone do that,” Tomberlin said. “It was such an inspiration.”
From then on, Tomberlin chased his baseball dreams wherever they took him. After going undrafted out of Piedmont High, he signed a free agent contract with the Atlanta Braves.
That was as a pitcher, like his dad. Tomberlin had other plans.
‘I wasn’t going to ask for permission’
Tomberlin was in the Atlanta farm system when he left the United States in the winter of 1987.
Sydney. One of his roommates was from Australia, and he followed him across the world. While the Braves saw Tomberlin’s future in pitching, the then-20-year-old wanted to be an outfielder.
“I kept talking to them about changing positions, because when we had pitchers’ batting practice I would show out,” Tomberlin said.
When he left, he didn’t tell the Braves.
“I didn’t ask for permission,” he said, “because I wasn’t going to accept no.”
His secret didn’t last. Paul Snyder, head of Braves scouting at the time, went to Australia for a tryout camp where he discovered Tomberlin already there. Tomberlin had led the Australian league in hitting, so Snyder relented.
He’d let Tomberlin try his luck in the outfield.
‘You have to go to it’
Tomberlin went on to a six-year career in the big leagues, bouncing from the Pirates to Athletics to nearly every team in between. When his playing days were over, he came back to Monroe and started coaching.
He rejoined Charlotte, now a class higher and affiliated with the White Sox, in 2014 as hitting coach.
Now, nearly 30 years after he first left the city, he’ll help show it off to the whole country. He’s honored, he said, to watch how far the city has come since his youth.
But aside from pride in his city, Tomberlin’s journey has taught him something else.
“Baseball doesn’t always come to you,” Tomberlin said. “You have to go to it.
“And sometimes you go around the world just to get to your neighbor.”