Former outfielder discusses playing with Tourette's on diversity panel
By Paul Hagen
NEW YORK -- Former big league outfielder Jim Eisenreich hit two World Series home runs -- one for the Phillies in 1993 and the other for the Marlins in '97. Those two baseballs ended up having an even deeper connection than he could have imagined.
Eisenreich, who has Tourette Syndrome, told the touching story Wednesday during the final day of the Fourth Annual Sports Diversity & Inclusion Symposium at Citi Field. He was on a panel that included former pitcher Jim Abbott, who pitched a decade in the Majors despite being born without a right hand, and blind Paralympian medal-winning skiier Danelle Umstead.
As moderator Neal Romano, a member of the National Council on Disability, explained, not only are there 57 million Americans who deal with disabilities, but their rate of unemployment and poverty is twice that of any other group in the country.
Both Abbott and Eisenreich credited baseball with helping them deal with their situations.
For Abbott, it was because the bottom line in baseball was the ability to get the job done.
"Major League Baseball is about results," Abbott said. "It's a highly competitive world. It's all about performance."
Eisenreich, who was drafted and signed by the Twins before being diagnosed, noted that being with a big league organization gave him access to the doctors who were finally able to figure out why he had always been different from other people.
About those home runs by Eisenreich: The first came at Toronto. The ball barely cleared the fence and Phillies bullpen coach Mike Ryan retrieved it for him. The second came at Cleveland and landed in the seats, so Eisenreich didn't know what became of it at the time.
In each case, Eisenreich's postgame interviews followed the same pattern, with time spent talking about Tourette Syndrome that was far longer than the home run. Which, he noted, was fine. It gave Eisenreich a platform to discuss the issue as well as his desire to help children with the affliction.
"I had a dream as a kid, and it wasn't to be a ballplayer -- it was to be normal," Eisenreich said.
As it turned out, the home run Eisenreich hit for the Marlins was caught by two fans from Toronto. They resisted pleas from the Indians fans that surrounded them to throw the ball back on the field. Instead, they took it home as a souvenir.
"As they're driving back to Toronto, they've got the radio on," Eisenreich said. "They heard the postgame news conference. Five minutes about the home run and an hour about the Tourette's.
"And the one guy says to his friend, 'Do you think that's what my daughter has?'"
The next day, he and his wife took their daughter to the doctor. Sure enough, she was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.
Two years later, Eisenreich was invited to Toronto for the Canadian National Tourette Conference. And when he got there, he was presented with the ball he hit for his second World Series home run.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.