KANSAS CITY -- Jim Eisenreich played in 15 Major League seasons, but he had to learn how to manage life with Tourette syndrome to get that far. He went on the voluntary retirement list from 1984 to 1987 while undergoing treatment, and ultimately went to the World Series with the Phillies (1993) and Marlins (1997). Today you'll most likely find him helping kids.
That was the case on Friday, when the Royals legend was among the dignitaries on hand to help with the All-Star Challenger-Champions Game on the left-field grass at Kauffman Stadium. Special-needs children representing Little League's Challenger Division and PONY Baseball/Softball Champions Division participated in a one-inning game there as All-Star Week got under way.
Also on hand on this scorching afternoon were Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president of business; Royals chairman David Glass; Royals president Dan Glass; Toby Cook, the Royals' vice president of community affairs and publicity; Sam Ranck, director of Challenger Division Little League Baseball and Softball; and Abe Key, president and CEO of PONY Baseball/Softball.
"It's a true joy," said Eisenreich, now 53. "I have my four kids, I love kids. With my own foundation, I'm constantly talking to kids. I just feel that kids deserve a chance to live their dreams.
"I know for a lot of the kids here today, their dream is to be on the field. They got to be on the field at Kauffman Stadium, a Major League baseball field, where they're holding the All-Star Game on Tuesday. I know that when I played here, it was a joy to be here, too."
Eisenreich resides in the Kansas City area, where he has lived for the past 22-plus years, and runs the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette syndrome. The foundation's mission is to help children with the syndrome achieve personal success.
On Friday he was wearing a familiar Royals throwback jersey as he offered a hand where needed to kids who were happy to connect with a pitch and run around the bases, or in some cases, rolling in wheelchairs.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "I love to help. It's fun to see the kids and the parents and these nice volunteers light up."
This, he said, is one of the big upshots of winning an All-Star Week as a host city -- that and being the center of attention around the Majors, regardless of won-loss record.
"The magnitude of not just the game but Major League Baseball is being showcased here in our city," he said. "It's a chance to show what we have. As a team the Royals have not been competitive for a few years, but the excitement that the fans have, we want to see a winner again."
Dan Glass spoke at the start of the event to the players, who were each matched up with a "buddy" -- individual volunteers from the Royals' front office.
"We want you to experience the best day of baseball you'll ever have," Glass told them.
"I want this to be their day," he added later. "I want them to experience baseball in a way they never experienced it before. Hopefully they can walk away from this as it being the greatest experience they've ever had, and if we do that, then we've done our job as hosts here."
Eisenreich is looking forward to catching up with many of the former players who will be coming to town for the Midsummer Classic, whether they were teammates or opponents.
"I personally get to see a lot of the old guys -- some that I played against, some I played with, some who I just watched," he said.
After coming off the voluntary restricted list in 1987, Eisenreich joined the Royals and played for the club until 1992. Although he homered in each World Series he played, he still considers his most memorable hit the grand slam he tagged off Randy Johnson at Seattle in 1989 -- lefty vs. lefty.
"I don't know why I was playing, but I was," he said. "The first inning, I got a single to left and drove in a run. The third inning came around and bases were loaded, and his ball hit my bat."
Was he thinking grand slam when he walked up to the plate?
"Absolutely not," he laughed. "He was a guy you never really felt comfortable with -- at least I didn't. But at the same time, I did OK. I got two hits that day, including the grand slam, and I got a couple of other hits, too. I'll never forget that. No. 1, it was a home run, which is unique to me anyway. It's a grand slam, it was a first. Being off Randy Johnson, it was kind of special."