If a hero is nothing but a sandwich, explain Jim Eisenreich. If you can't find a true hero in Philadelphia, home of the hoagie and the cheese steak, then account for the Phillie rightfielder. If a hero is nothing but a sandwich, the 90th World Series is a mere deli platter piled high with sandwiches. But Eisenreich is the biggest of them all. Dagwood Bumstead never had a hero so appealing.
"I would like kids to look at me as a positive role model," Eisenreich, a man of uncommon dignity, volunteered to the world in the early hours of Monday morning. "Not only kids with Tourette's syndrome, but any kids. Even so-called normal kids."
Ex-Philadelphian Charles Barkley said he wasn't paid to be a role model. Well, Eisenreich, 34, wasn't paid to bear a debilitating neurological disorder. He wasn't paid to endure "torture" (his word) in grade school; to become an "outcast" or an "oddball" (his words); to go from the majors to Beaudreau's bar team in his native St. Cloud, Minn., for four years while he learned to manage his facial tics and muscle twitching and hyperventilations.
Eisenreich wasn't paid for Tourette's; he was chosen. So it is with role models. So it is with heroes. So it is that Eisenreich hit a three-run homer in the Phils' two-run win over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 2 of the World Series on Sunday night, tying the Fall Classic at one game apiece.
Real heroes aren't created when the world is watching; they're simply revealed. This isn't to say that players don't gain instantaneous fame in the World Series. Take the entire worst-to-first Phillies, who became beloved and legendary slobs at the speed of light after beating the Atlanta Braves in six games in the National League playoffs. "We're——up, and we know it," is how first baseman John Kruk describes the team and its appeal. "We were like this last year, too, but we were so damn bad, nobody gave a——."
Conversely, the defending world champion Blue Jays exude an oddly infectious, unflappable blandness again this October. Designated hitter Paul Molitor, one of 12 new Jays in '93, aptly described the team last week as "genteel"—though when Major League Baseball issued a transcript of Molitor's comments, he was quoted as saying, "I would classify us as gentile." Which is also true.
But these genteel giants have their own frenzied national following. Ontario pushed bar-closing time back an hour, to 2 a.m., during Series games in Toronto. The city's Metro Zoo wagered a pair of Tasmanian devils (against two white lions from the Philadelphia Zoo) that the Blue Jays would win it all. Much was at stake as the Jays and the Phils prepared to step between the white lions last Saturday, for the first Series ever to open outside the U.S.
And everywhere, there were genuine heroes in the antiquated sense.
On steel crutches Steve Palermo stood in foul territory and appraised the diamond before Game 1. "I never fully appreciated how much fun it is down here," said the American League umpire who was shot while thwarting a robbery attempt one night in July 1991. Still learning to walk, still scheduled for more surgery, still concerned about a little boy he met in rehabilitation who is recovering from injuries he suffered when struck by a car...still, the World Series could move this man mightily.
A grown man thinks of children at the World Series. "I'm going to send him a World Series ball," Palermo said of the boy, who is enduring his own difficult physical therapy. "I'm going to tell him to go break some windows with it."
What the hell. Why not? Carpe diem. It is a lesson Jay first baseman John Olerud (page 28) surely learned after surgery for a brain aneurysm four years ago. His wrists-only solo home run in the sixth inning of the opener gave the Jays a 5-4 lead, before which the two teams had played Ping-Pong off each other's starting pitchers, Juan Guzman of Toronto and Curt Schilling of Philadelphia. "It's going to continue this way throughout the Series," vowed Blue Jay rightfielder Joe Carter. "We played these games in spring training. Whoever batted last usually won."
The Jays would not have to bat last on Saturday. After Olerud's dinger, reliever Al Leiter shut down the Phillies for the next 2⅖ innings, striking out Kruk with the bases loaded to end the sixth. Yet another admirable man in this Series, Leiter threw a career-high 105 innings and won nine games for Toronto this season after overcoming shoulder and elbow injuries that limited him to 42⅖ innings in the four previous seasons combined. After that career setback, it's no wonder he takes Penn State correspondence courses by day, pitches in the bigs by night, in piecemeal pursuit of a liberal-arts degree that is at least three years away.
But back to baseball: They say of great athletes, "He was in the zone." They were saying of star-crossed Phil reliever David (Wild Wild) West on Saturday, "He was up in the zone." This is not a good place for a pitcher to be. West, a Minnesota Twin in 1991, has now faced eight batters in two World Series, getting zero outs, issuing four walks and allowing four hits. He gave up doubles to the only two hitters he faced on Saturday, as three more Blue Jays crossed the plate to give Toronto an 8-4 lead. The final was 8-5 only because Eisenreich singled in a run off Jay closer Duane Ward in the ninth inning.
He can't help himself. You don't think Eisenreich seizes his days? He learned to in nearly four full years away from the major leagues, from 1983 to '86. A man carpes his diems when he has only 40 amateur baseball games to play annually between northern Minnesota winters. Which is about the only kind of baseball Eisenreich played in those years.
After making the roster of his home-state Twins in '82 and '83, he missed most of both seasons with the mysterious disorder he had lived with since symptoms began to appear at age five. Doctors had told him he would grow out of it. But it wasn't until he turned 23 as a Twin rookie that what was thought to be acute stage fright was properly diagnosed as Tourette's. So he went home and won a state amateur championship for the boys at Beaudreau's bar while experimenting with different medications. "I could have just as much fun playing amateur ball in St. Cloud as I'm having here," Eisenreich says. "But this is where the best players are, and I love being part of a great team."
The best play the best in the World Series, and on Sunday night the Phillies were up against baseball's finest October pitcher. Dave Stewart was 10-3 with a 2.24 ERA in six postseasons going into the game and was the MVP of this year's American League Championship Series. The second of his two playoff wins against the Chicago White Sox came in the Game 6 clincher on Oct. 12. While the rest of the Blue Jays flew to Chicago on the travel day before that game, Stewart stayed in Toronto, where he had quietly sprung for a banquet in a homeless shelter on what was Thanksgiving Day in Canada.
Sometimes a hero is nothing but a man with a sandwich. As a member of the Oakland A's from 1986 to '92, Stewart, the son of a longshoreman, fed the hungry in his native Bay Area. Why should anything have changed last winter, when he signed as a free agent to play in mythically pristine Toronto? "Ever since he's been here he's been asking, 'Where's the ghetto?' " said Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston. "I tried to tell him, there is no ghetto here."
Alas, Stew would not go unpeppered on Sunday night, already trailing 2-0 when he found himself with runners at second and third and Eisenreich at the plate in the third inning. In singling off Ward the night before, Eisenreich felt oddly "locked in," unusually so. Uncharacteristically—for he had only seven home runs in the regular season—Eisenreich told Schilling before Game 2 that he felt like he could hit a home run on this night.
"Hit one for your daughter," Schilling said. "I'll tell everyone you called it."
A father thinks of his daughter at the World Series. Two-year-old Lauren Eisenreich will one day hear her dad's preposterous story: How he decided in 1987 to return from Beaudreau's bar to the minor leagues, how he secured his release from a Twin organization that had no more interest in him, how he was acquired on waivers for a dollar by the Kansas City Royals. Eisenreich hit .301 for the Royals in '91 and .269 in '92. Then he signed with the Phils as a free agent, and hit .318 and started against righthanders for the pennant winners in '93. Until this season, says Eisenreich, his biggest thrill in baseball was the '83 Minnesota amateur championship. "Because I got to play with my younger brother, Charlie, which was a dream," he says.
A boy thinks of the backyard and his brothers at the World Series. Eisenreich's other brothers, Bill and Tom, drove to Toronto from St. Cloud last weekend. They were driving the 1,000 miles home after Sunday night's game, rocket-fueled by pride in their younger brother Jim. "It'll probably only take them two hours to get back," said Eisenreich.
That's because, behind 0-2 in the count to Stew, Eisenreich turned on a high inside fastball and drove it 391 feet over the right-centerfield fence at the Sky-Dome, giving the Phillies a very necessary 5-0 lead. Necessary, because Toronto's offense, a relentlessly dripping faucet, would reduce the Phils' lead to 5-3 (ping!) before Phillie centerfielder Lenny Dykstra hit his seventh career postseason home run (pong!) in the seventh. It was still 6-3 by the time Phillie closer Mitch Williams made his usual excruciating appearance near game's end. Unusually, Wild Thing entered in the eighth inning. (No David West on this night.)
Thing, as Williams is known, allowed a run on Olerud's sacrifice fly and then walked Roberto Alomar on four pitches. But after Alomar stole second, Williams wheeled and threw him out to end the eighth as Alomar foolishly tried to steal third. All of which is to say that Thing was his usual, unwatchable, diabolical self.
In the Phillie dugout Schilling draped a towel over his own head for Thing's performance in the ninth. "I do it for two reasons," Schilling explains. "To keep my sanity, and so I don't throw up on the bench. But he's comfortable out there. He goes 3 and 0, and it doesn't bother him. Then he paints three in a row. It's like, 'What the hell are you doing?' " What Williams was doing, in his own inimitable way, was procuring a 6-4 Phillie win.
But afterward, the phalanx of cameras and klieg lights and the journalists from 43 countries were embanked around Eisenreich, the man whose neurological disorder was once thought to be mere nerves, an inability to perform in the white-hot light of the big leagues. "I was playing third base in Milwaukee the day he tripled and had to leave the game because he was hyperventilating," Molitor remembers. "I felt bad for him then. I'm happy that everything's turning out great for him now."
Well after midnight on Monday morning, Eisenreich stood erect at his locker and addressed the mob. Not because he enjoys doing so, he said, but because he may be able to reassure others with Tourette's. Children: They are not oddballs, they are not outcasts.
"It's part of the journey of life," is how Eisenreich described his ordeal. "You have ups and downs. Hopefully, I've had my downs. I'm going to enjoy the ups. I'm going to cherish this as long as I live."
Cherish the moment. Seize the day. For life is short, and time pauses only during the World Series, where last call is always another hour away.