Mike Jirschele is finally headed to the big leagues.
The Royals announced on Friday that Jirschele, 54, will be one of the team's coaches heading into 2014. The team has not yet assigned a role for him.
He certainly has the credentials.
He played 13 seasons in the minor leagues and after his playing career ended he managed and coached in the Royals minor league system for 21 years - 14 of which he spent as the manager of the Omaha Royals, now Storm Chasers.
Omaha won 995 games with Jirschele at the helm, leading the team to four division titles, three straight conference championships, two league championships and one Triple-A championship. In 2013, Omaha became one of only six teams in the history of the PCL to appear in three straight championship series.
I've covered this team for the past five seasons, but most of those numbers will fade from my memory. I'm just not a numbers person. But I'll always remember these three things about Jirschele.
His Brothers' Keeper
If you don't know Jirschele, he can come across as having a rough exterior. He's quick to give his players or journalists "the business" when he sees something he doesn't like, but in reality, once he gives you the business, you know you're in. Underneath the rough exterior is a man who simply lives compassion rather than talking about it.
Jirschele grew up in Clintonville, Wis., with four sisters (Jane, Marge, Jan and Karen) and three brothers (Doug, Pete and Jim). All three of his brothers were born with muscular dystrophy (none of his sisters were afflicted), and all three are now deceased. Understandably, he admits to struggling with the, "Why not me?" question. And how could he not? But in practice, he simply loved his ailing brothers the best way he knew how.
"When you have three brothers that you have to put their clothes on for them, and if they had to go to the restroom you had to take them in there, you had to put them to bed at night," Jirschele told The Oklahoman in 2005. "They really couldn't do anything."
Jirschele was close to Doug, the oldest, who often felt like Jirschele was playing just for him.
Every time I interviewed Jirschele, I did so knowing his back story about his brothers and I watched his interactions with others through that lens. He's been taking care of people his entire life, which means being a minor league manager was a perfect fit for him.
The Candy Man
The second thing happened after a game during the 2013 season. Omaha was in the middle of a pennant race and it didn't look all that promising (they went on to not only win the division, but the league championship). As the season drew to a close, it seemed like more players were bringing their little ones to the ballpark.
On this particular day, one of the player's sons - who was maybe three years old - wandered into Jirschele's office while another reporter and myself were interviewing him. Jirschele stopped the interview and invited the boy in. He kept a bowl of candy on his desk, presumably for occasions just like this one. Jirschele waved the boy toward the bowl. "Come on over, get some candy."
The boy grabbed a couple of miniature candy bars and cut his eyes up at Jirschele, as if to ask, "Can I have more?"
"Reach on in there and grab as much as you can," Jirschele said.
That's the only invitation the boy needed. He buried both hands in the bowl, trying to take so much candy that it began spilling through his fingers. But now that he had permission, he wasn't going to miss this opportunity. He finally pulled both hands out of the bowl and smiled.
As he left the office, a trail of candy followed him. But he came back for it, forming a pouch with the front of his shirt so he could carry it all. As soon as he picked up one piece of candy, another one would fall out, but eventually he accomplished his mission.
He unloaded the candy somewhere (probably Dad's duffle bag in the clubhouse) and came back for round two, where Jirschele invited him to take even more. The boy cleaned out the bowl, leaving both Jirschele and the boy smiling from ear to ear.
It was a simple gesture - one that would have been easy to avoid if Jirschele had wanted to. After games he met with the press, talked to players about game situations as well as other issues and reported back to Kansas City via computer and voicemail about the game and the progress of various players. But he didn't let any of that stop him from making a little boy's day.
I'll never forget that.
The third thing I'll never forget is the way he interacted with Johnny Giavotella when he was called up to the big leagues for the first time in August 2011.
Jirschele started by playing a joke on Giavotella.
"He called me in there and I kind of had some chills at first - I didn't know what to expect," Giavotella told me an hour or so after the fact. "He asked me if I wanted to work on some double plays tomorrow here at the field. And I was like, ‘Yeah, you know, whatever you want.' And he said, ‘Or, would you like to go to the big leagues?'
"I was taken aback by it. You know, it was a dream come true. I had to sit down just to gather it all in."
As Giavotella was recounting the events for me, Jirschele popped his head out of his office and Giavotella noticed him.
"Hey, let me go tell Jirsch goodbye real quick," Giavotella said.
Giavotella thanked him for everything he'd done and Jirschele, ever the manager, told Giavotella to keep working hard and to stay within himself up there. Then they embraced.
It looked more like father and son than manager and player.
This is the kind of guy who is headed your way, Royals fans. Take good care of him. We're going to miss him here in Omaha.