Where are they now? Steve Jeltz

Where are they now? Steve Jeltz

It started out as a day like any other. It was 2003 and former Phillies shortstop Steve Jeltz was running by a lake near his Colorado home. That wasn't unusual. He still works out almost every day. Jeltz felt a cramp in his right calf. No big deal.

Back at the house, Jeltz had a salad and a sandwich and decided to lay down on the sofa. He drifted off to sleep and had a dream that he couldn't move the right side of his mouth. Then he woke up and realized it wasn't a dream. Jeltz felt a sensation go through the side of his face, down his arm, down his leg. His wife rushed him to the emergency room, where the doctors had a sobering diagnosis:

They said Jeltz had had a seizure caused by a brain tumor.

The good news is that it was benign. Jeltz had surgery, made what the doctors called a miraculous recovery.

"All my feeling has come back except for a little feeling in my right fingertips. But other than that, I'm blessed," he said by phone from Lawrence, Kan., where he now lives and operates Jet SS Enterprises, a home remodeling company. "I've been healthy ever since. So far, so good."

Jeltz broke in with Darren Daulton and is obviously aware of the string of players with Phillies connections who have developed brain cancer: Dutch, John Vukovich, Tug McGraw, Johnny Oates, Ken Brett.

"I've been hearing about that and I started wondering what was going on out there," he said.

That wouldn't be the last curve that life threw him.

Jeltz made his Major League debut with the Phils in 1983. From 1985-88, he was the regular shortstop. At the end of Spring Training in 1990, Jeltz was traded to the Royals for right-hander Jose DeJesus, and he played his final big league season in Kansas City.

Now 55, Jeltz is best remembered in Philadelphia for a magical game against the Pirates at Veterans Stadium on June 8, 1989. He hit five home runs in his career, but two of them came in this game. After Pittsburgh scored 10 runs against Larry McWilliams and Steve Ontiveros in the top of the first, Jeltz replaced Tommy Herr at second base in the top of the second and ended up going deep twice, once from each side of the plate, as the Phillies rallied for an improbable win.

With the Royals the following season, Jeltz played sparingly and was released at the end of the season. But there were reasons his mind was elsewhere.

"I had some issues off the field," he said. "My brother was having some problems. I was trying to keep him alive, but he committed suicide in 1991. My only brother."

Jeltz played his last professional season in the Minor Leagues for the Blue Jays and Orioles in '91, and then his life took another unexpected turn.

The father of a friend called and asked Jeltz to bail his son out of jail. He agreed, signing a $5,000 bond. Weeks later, the bondsman called and said the friend hadn't appeared in court and they couldn't find him. Jeltz was on the hook for the money. Instead, he found his friend within hours and brought him in. The owner of the company was so impressed that he offered Jeltz a job as a bounty hunter.

"The end of the story is that I started working for the company writing bail bonds and bounty hunting," Jeltz said, adding that the no-show rate plunged dramatically in the year he was there.

At that point, Jeltz moved to Colorado and learned a trade. He can do electrical work, concrete, plumbing, roofs.

Jeltz continued in that line of working after moving back to Lawrence, where he grew up and played baseball at the University of Kansas. Last year, he coached a successful youth team in Kansas City; now he's trying to set up a similar program locally, focusing on kids who can't afford the high cost of joining traveling teams. Jeltz's fiancée, Kristi, is helping put together a business plan for an indoor facility.

Jeltz's daughter Ashley, 23, is working for Urban Pie and Urban Plates, gourmet restaurants in San Diego. His son Justin, 30, is a property manager in Lawrence. His stepson Vaughn, who just turned 20, works with him in his construction business.

Jeltz has fond memories of playing in Philadelphia, even thought he sometimes became the target for fan discontent. He remembers making a diving stop to save a run late in a blowout game and getting a standing ovation for his effort.

"I always appreciated Philadelphia fans. It was special. What I saw was that it's not hard to play there if you play hard," Jeltz said. "I mean, they're tough on you. That's part of the game. They want to see us win and they get upset. They rip you a little bit. But I never had a problem with that. I got my boos like everybody else. They booed Santa Claus. They booed Mike Schmidt. Who am I? If you go out there and play hard, it's a joy to play in Philadelphia."

And, of course, Jeltz recalls the two-homer game. He was a career .210 hitter, but he always believed that wasn't indicative of his ability. Since Jeltz normally batted eighth, his primary duty was to do whatever it took to turn over the lineup so the pitcher didn't lead off the next inning.

"You had to sacrifice your batting average," he said. "That's just one of the things you have to deal with.".

On that night, coming into the game for Herr, Jeltz was batting second. He walked his first time up. In the bottom of the fourth, Jeltz homered to center against Bob Walk. In the bottom of the sixth, facing left-hander Bob Kipper, the count went to 2-0.

"I thought, 'I get to let it rip now,'" Jeltz said. "He threw me a fastball. I remember Barry Bonds looking up at it. I smoked it but I hit it real high and I didn't think it was going out."

Sometimes Jeltz thinks about getting back into professional baseball.

"I'd love to," he said. "I feel like I'm kind of wasted as far as the knowledge I have. I learned from Hall of Famers. I feel like I could be a help somewhere, but it can be political. So I just enjoy my life."

After all, Jeltz understands better than most that every day really is a blessing.