Jim Eisenreich didn’t set out to become a professional baseball player, or a hero to those with Tourett Syndrome (TS), but the 59-year-old Kansas City resident has accomplished both in his lifetime.
“Normally when I speak, it’s to a group of kids and some of their parents, and it’s usually about Tourette’s and baseball,” Eisenreich said. “The whole goal of that is to give their parents hope for the future.”
Eisenreich was one of two plenary speakers at the Ottawa University 24th Annual Baseball in Literature and Culture Conference, hosted Friday on the school’s Ottawa Campus. The yearly conference hosts academics, journalists, sports buffs, and prominent ballplayers to explore the sport in it’s various social contexts.
Presenting as this year’s afternoon keynote speaker, Eisenreich shared the story of life, including a seldom-heard look into his upbringing.
“I’m not really sure if I was born to be a ball player,” the St. Cloud, Minnesota native said. “I just loved to play. I played baseball and hockey, being from the north, and it was just what I liked to do. I had no concept of how professional baseball worked. I was on the path to go to high school, get a degree from college, and go to work just like my dad.”
Eisenreich’s parents figured prominently into the narrative.
“The cool thing about my parents, they were as crazy about baseball as you and I are,“ he said, addressing the audience. “Really weird almost. They got married, they went on their honeymoon, and they drove from Saint Cloud, and they stopped in Chicago, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and guess what they did – they went to ball games.”
“I asked my mom at one point, ‘What did you do for the rest of the day?’ she said ‘We sat in the parking lot,’ and I believe they did. So it was a big part of our lives.”
It was in grade school that Eisenriech began grappling with TS, a reality that would affect his day-to-day life.
“I can’t remember when this started, but I started making little noises and movements — eventually what would be called Tourette’s,” he said. “But at the time, I didn’t know why. My brothers and my sisters did not do these things.”
Eisenreich quickly learned to cope, though he did at times come across as a trouble maker to the nuns at his Catholic grade school.
“That was never the truth, though, because the last thing I wanted to do was let my dad down,” he said. “I thought, as a kid, my goal in life is to be normal. And I thought for the most part that I was.”
Eisenriech would experience enough success in high school baseball to play at the college level, and found college life better suited to managing his TS.
“College is a little different because you have more flexibility with your scheduling in time, and I felt I could move around,” Eisenreich said. “That was always the biggest thing for me – I couldn’t sit and listen to a teacher talk, because I was always worried about me not distracting the teacher. In college, I was able to sit in the back and actually pay attention.”
His junior year, Eisenreich was spotted by scouts who had come to watch his roommate, a baseball-basketball All-American. A, “Yes sir” to the scouts’ query about his interest in professional baseball would see him drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1982. That was the start of an illustrious 16-year career in pro-baseball, including a stint with the Royals from 1987 to 1992. Eisenreich would later start the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette’s Syndrome with a goal is to help children with TS to achieve personal success.