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The season of perpetual hope (Pt. 3 of 3): Jim Eisenreich

Local boy makes good—eventually

New York Yankees vs Minnesota Twins Set Number: X29860 TK1 R1 F19

Part 1: Zack Greinke cleanses his mind and crafts a potential HOF career.

Part 2: Jim Abbott overcomes a physical limitation and does the (seemingly) impossible.

Imagine living your dream—working your entire life towards a goal and achieving it—then your body betrays you. That is the scenario Jim Eisenreich faced some 40 years ago.

Eisenreich was born in St. Cloud and starred on the baseball fields of St. Cloud Tech HS, then St. Cloud State University. Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1980, he immediately took home Appalachian League Player of the Year. The fast track to the majors, to be sure.

Jim got the call to start the ‘82 campaign and came out like gangbusters: 111 PA, .303 BA, .803 OPS, 118 OPS+. For a franchise starved of talent (the ‘82 Twins would go 60-102), he looked like a revelation in center field.

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees
A star in the making?
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

But in late April, Eisenreich began to display some strange facial tics and grimaces—especially during the down time playing the OF. Initially chalked up as “nerves”, the situation came to a head on May 4 in Boston, where the Fenway fans taunted him to the point of his hyperventilation and removal from the game.

A few days later, Jim tried to play again—this time running off the field in a panic and reportedly stripping his clothes off professing an inability to breathe. Clearly, something was majorly amiss. In an extended absence from baseball (missing the rest of ‘82), #4 was diagnosed—incorrectly—with agoraphobia and prescribed various medicinal remedies.

Jim’s career looked back on track after a hot 1983 Spring Training—until two games into the regular season his condition again led him to remove himself from competition and profess retirement. Eisenreich gave things another go in 1984—this time lasting 12 contests and leaving the sport “for good”, with a youngster named Kirby Puckett called up to try CF. Jim spent 1985-1986 back home in St. Cloud working odd jobs and playing semi-pro ball.

AUG 23 1983, AUG 24 1983; Former Minnesota Twins Jim Eisenreich (4) shown spending quiet moments on
Tougher times
Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images

At this point, it would have been easy for Eisenreich to never play another inning of professional baseball and be “the guy who couldn’t hack it and was replaced by Kirby”. But away from the bright lights, Jim received a correct diagnosis of Tourette’s Syndrome—an autoimmune disorder manifesting in motor tics and various muscle movements.

In 1987 Jim decided to give the Bigs another shot and the Kansas City Royals came calling. As anticipated, the first few years were rough getting back into game-shape—physically and mentally—but from ‘89-’92 he re-established himself as a solid MLB talent (OPS+ hovering around 100, if not pushing 120 at times). A remarkable feat having been away for so long.

Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles
Back in business!
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In ‘93, Eisenreich signed with the Philadelphia Phillies and became a key platoon cog (394 PA, .318 BA, 118 OPS+) in their World Series run. With the Florida Marlins in ‘97, Jim was again a solid contributor and this time took home a ring. Eisenreich retired after 1998 to become a more substantial contributor to the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette’s he had established years earlier in Missouri.

Jim Eisenreich didn’t quite get to star for his hometown team like the cosmos had seemingly aligned towards—but his story of battling and overcoming Tourette’s Syndrome assures he won’t long be forgotten by Minnesota sports fans or those across the nation.

This past weekend, I saw Home Alone (a December staple) on the big screen in Minneapolis and couldn’t help but smile as a harangued Catherine O’Hara utters the line that titled this series. Twinkie Town, I sincerely wish you a happy holiday season and hope you enjoyed this optimistic look at a few inspirational baseball figures.