KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Open minds, the heart usually follows. The itinerary this week includes a trip to Houston, where Jim Eisenreich has been asked to speak to a small group on behalf of a local family.
"I’ve been in contact with a family with a son who has had Tourette (syndrome) for about five years," Eisenreich, the former Royals outfielder, tells FOXSportsKansasCity.com. "They actually just moved to Houston last year from Atlanta.
"I’m going down there to talk to some of the educators. With his school there, (it’s) a huge school district and not a lot of knowledge. And I just wanted (them) to hear it from the horse’s mouth."
He’ll work through the standard presentation: some PowerPoint stuff, some Q&A, along with some videos of a few of his more famous home runs.
"I’m old now," Eisenreich chuckles, "so young people don’t have a clue that I could play."
Could he ever. Over 15 seasons in the majors — a career that almost never took flight because of Eisenreich’s own well-chronicled battles with Tourette’s — the Minnesota native was a left-handed, gap-to-gap outfielder with wheels to burn, hitting .280 or higher in 10 different years and eventually appearing in 11 World Series games with the Phillies and Marlins.
But he found his feet, his stride, and some roots, in Kansas City, back in 1987. More on that in a minute.
A lean, mean 56 — he’s always taken good care of himself — Eisenreich is slated to represent the Royals as one of 30 ex-big leaguers participating in the Hall of Fame Classic on May 23 in Cooperstown, New York. He’s supposed to suit up as part of a seven-inning "legends" game at Doubleday Field, one of the centerpiece events of a weekend celebrating the history of baseball and the contributions of America’s veterans. Hall of Famers such as Tom Glavine, Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, Phil Niekro and Rollie Fingers will serve as coaches for the Classic.
Eisenreich has always kept Royal blue close to his heart. He will represent the Royals at a celebrity ‘legends’ game in Cooperstown on May 23.
"Oh, I do OK," cracks Eisenreich, a Royal from 1987-92 who still calls Blue Springs, Missouri, home. "I’m a little slow, but I have a 13-year-old son that I do coach and I still throw BP. My 17-year-old son is playing high school ball, I do a little bit with him. I also go to fantasy camps in January.
"It keeps me on the field, so we do swing the bat (at those) a little bit. So I feel OK. I can run a little bit."
Many days (and nights) involve coaching or business interests. But a good chunk of Eisenreich’s post-baseball life — he retired in 1998 at the age of 39, after 1,422 big-league appearances — has been devoted to education regarding Tourette’s, a rare neurological disorder that often involves involuntary, repeated muscle/facial tics or, in some cases, vocal outbursts. Jim and wife Leann formed The Jim Eisenreich Foundation in 1996, a platform to raise awareness about Tourette syndrome and those who are affected by it.
To that end, Eisenreich speaks to schools, community groups, organizations, both in greater Kansas City and abroad. And he speaks from the heart, having seen the disease derail the early part of his baseball career, with the Minnesota Twins, leading to his retirement from the game in 1985, some three decades earlier, at the age of 25.
"It’s been a long time," he says now. "It’s amazing, that big of a number."
After three confused, truncated seasons with the Twins 30 years ago, Eisenreich found himself at a crossroads. He spent a year going back to school, serving on a construction crew, assisting a painter, working at an archery shop and playing ball with the semi-pro Saints in his hometown of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
"I knew I wanted to come back," he says, "but I wasn’t probably quite ready. I was just trying to get healthy."
A draftee out of St. Cloud State in 1980, he had been rushed to the majors by a rebuilding Twins organization, getting a cup of coffee at Single A ball before landing a spot on the big-league roster in the spring of 1982. From a distance, the tics brought on by Tourette’s were overlooked on amateur and minor league fields, or Eisenreich could find ways to hide them. But not in The Show, not with all its cameras and crowds; the pressures of the majors and the spotlight only intensified the problems that had been with him for years. Coaches laughed. Teammates shied away, worried they might set off a set of spasms.
For more information on The Jim Eisenreich Foundation, visit http://www.tourettes.org.
In 1985, the Twins sent him to a Minneapolis specialist who diagnosed him with Tourette’s and told him the tics could be treated with medication and healthy lifestyle choices, and it was as if a giant light went on. It took several months of trial-and-error with dosages, but Eisenreich felt stable enough to ask in 1986 to be taken off the voluntarily retired list.
"I wanted to be normal," he says. "I had no clue what that meant. I just wanted to get there."
The Twins put him on waivers, and a former pal at St. Cloud, Bob Hegman, then working in the Royals’ front office, persuaded the brass to reach out and take a shot on Eisenreich, purchasing his rights for the $1 waiver fee.
It turned out to be money well spent: In 1989, his third year with the club, he batted .293 in Kansas City, slugged .448 with 33 doubles and nine home runs, and stole 27 bases. He was voted the Royals’ Player of the Year by local media, beating out a certain Vincent Edward Jackson in the process.
A .290 career hitter over 15 seasons, Eisenreich would go on to appear in two World Series in the ’90s, hitting .294 in 11 Fall Classic tilts with Philadelphia (’93) and Florida (’97). But he’s always kept Royal blue close to his heart. He met his wife here. Raised his kids here. Daughter Lauren played softball at Missouri State.
Eisenreich has two World Series home runs on his resume but jokes that he’d "never seen his kids light up" quite the way they did during the Royals’ October 2014 thrill ride.
"I’ve played in some really fun games in my career," says Eisenreich. "And that wild card (win over Oakland), just watching it was unbelievable. It was just so fun."
You never forget your first love. Or your second chance.