River Hawk student manager Drew Epperson experiences a championship up close
From South Campus to the South Pacific, Red Sox fans everywhere reveled in Boston’s latest World Series championship.
Epperson’s father, Chad, is a member of the Red Sox coaching staff, working with the team’s catchers. So when the Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games to win the World Series, Drew was there for every moment: the opening wins at Fenway Park, the epic 18-inning loss in LA, the clinching Game 5 victory, the on-field celebration and the after-party at the team hotel. He was even in the Duck Boat parade through the streets of Boston.
“It was a dream come true for the players, but it was a dream come true for me, too,” Epperson says.
“It was awesome being around arguably one of the best teams in baseball history.”
Epperson has actually been around Red Sox players for most of his life. His dad played minor league ball for nine years before retiring in 2000 and turning to coaching. As a manager and roving catching instructor in the Red Sox minor league system, he would bring young Drew to the park as often as he could.
Not only was it a way for father and son to spend time together, it gave Drew a welcome diversion from the medical issues he’s faced all his life. He was born with a cleft lip and palate (“On a scale of 1-10, I was like a 7 or 8” in severity, he says) that slowed his physical development. He was also born with associated medical issues.
“My heart’s on the right side instead of the left. And I have butterfly vertebrae in my neck, which is a form of scoliosis,” says Epperson, who’s had around two dozen surgeries (“I’ve kind of lost count”) to address the issues, most recently a back surgery last summer to “straighten out” his neck.
“I wasn’t able to throw a baseball after the surgery; that kind of sucked, but now I’m completely healed. All good,” says Epperson, who believes he has two surgeries to go. “Being around baseball, being around the Red Sox, has definitely helped a lot.”
When his dad was managing the Sox’ Single-A team in Augusta, Ga., in 2004, Epperson became friends with a young prospect named Dustin Pedroia. Epperson still receives something from Pedroia – a bat, jersey or batting gloves – after surgeries.
“They’ve all been really good to me,” says Epperson, who’s also grown close to Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in recent years. “They’ve been awesome. They’ve made me feel part of the team.”
Epperson is also part of the team at UMass Lowell. As student manager, he’s at every practice and game, working out with teammates and “just doing whatever coaches need me to do.”
“Drew is a vital part of our program,” says Coach Ken Harring, who treats Epperson like an extension to the coaching staff. “His relationship with his dad and his passion for the game have given him a great eye for the game. We trust his opinion on everything, and he has a say in everything. UMass Lowell baseball is blessed to have him as part of our family.”
Epperson, who played a little second base at Andover High School, says he decided to attend UMass Lowell after touring the campus with Harring his senior year.
“Baseball is a big reason why I came here,” he says. “I love baseball. I love the camaraderie of it, being around the team. It’s like a brotherhood of 35 or 40 guys that you spend all your time with. They’re like family.”
After commuting to campus his freshman year, Epperson is sharing an off-campus apartment with two teammates this year. He’s still deciding on a business concentration, although he already has designs on how he wants to use his degree.
“I definitely want to get into the business side of baseball. That’s the goal,” Epperson says. “If I can get my foot in the door somewhere and work my way up, I’ll be happy.”
And when he interviews with a future baseball employer, Epperson’s inside experience with the Red Sox will give him plenty to talk about.