Mike Jirschele grew up around sports and learned the value of family and teamwork at a very young age.
A keen understanding of those concepts helped him excel as an athlete, coach, husband and father.
When he finally got the call to be an assistant coach with the Kansas City Royals at the end of last year’s Major League Baseball season, he credited the strength of his family and their ability to work as a team to help him reach the major leagues.
Learning at a young age
Jirschele’s passion for baseball began as a little boy. Although he excelled at all sports, baseball was always his most prominent athletic pursuit.
“Mike always wanted to play baseball,” said his father, Don. “He was good at just about every sport he tried and he even earned a trip down to New Orleans for the Punt Pass and Kick contest as a kid. He loved all sports, but baseball was his favorite.”
Growing up, Mike quickly became comfortable on the baseball diamond. He was propelled to success by brothers Jim, Pete and Doug, who were all battling muscular dystrophy.
“Mike’s brothers were always behind him and Mike always took care of them,” Don recalled. “Mike’s sisters and his mother Mary were all huge supporters as well. Everyone has always backed him 100 percent. I wish the boys were alive now because seeing Mike make the majors would give them so much joy. But life goes on and you just have to keep going.”
While Mike was busy with a different sport every season at Clintonville High School, his summers were always chocked full of baseball games, just the way Mike wanted them to be. His skills helped him earn a spot on the Clintonville A’s BABA team even though he was still in high school.
“Pat Singler was pitching for the A’s one day,” said Don, who managed the A’s at the time. “Mike was good ballplayer and Pat said he wanted Mike to play shortstop for him. That was my chance to move Mike up. He was still in high school, so he was much younger than the other guys and I had to wait until the players accepted him. If they accepted him, then I knew I could play the boy. So when they did, we ended up using him and he did really well.”
Those busy summers filled with baseball games sometimes left little time for other pursuits, much to the chagrin of Mike’s high school coaches.
“I remember one summer when he was in high school, Mike got pretty mad at Carl Bruggink, his high school basketball coach,” Don said with a chuckle. “Mike was playing a lot of baseball like he usually did during the summer and Coach Bruggink wanted him to find more time to hone his basketball skills in the offseason. Mike got upset about that. You just didn’t mess with his baseball.”
After an incredible high school athletic career, Mike signed on to attend college and play baseball.
“When they signed him to go to Wisconsin, they knew there was one big item that was in the way – the Major League Baseball draft,” Don said. “Mike had a scholarship at Wisconsin, but then he was drafted pretty high. They paid him good and that’s where he went. He wanted to play baseball.”
Mike would later marry Sheri Bruggink, the daughter of his high school basketball coach. Now his father-in-law, Bruggink said Mike earning a spot at the major league level is well deserved.
“I am not surprised that Mike made it to this level as a coach,” Bruggink said. “He showed his great leadership abilities already in high school as he led our Trucker basketball team to a WIAA state runner-up title as a junior and the state championship as a senior.
“I think his leadership helped future teams get over the mental barrier of having confidence that Trucker teams could make it to state, as a total of seven succeeding teams made it, including two in Division 1,” he added. “Mike was also first-team all-state in football, basketball and baseball his senior year and was the leader in all three sports.”
Waiting for the call
One of the most agonizing things about Mike’s career was being so close to the majors and having to wait so many years before finally being called up to the big leagues.
“There were several times where Mike was told that his big promotion was coming, but it didn’t happen,” Sheri said. “We had a few teases here and there, but nothing materialized. We did our best to stay positive and remember that many people are going through much worse.”
As he waited for the call, Mike accepted the reality that the call might not ever come.
“Everyone has goal,” he said. “Well, sometimes it takes quite awhile to reach them and sometimes you don’t reach them at all. Too many people blame something else for them not reaching their goals. It may just be that you weren’t meant to reach the goal you have in mind.
“I really wish people would understand that all you can be concerned with is what you have control of,” he said. “Then, let everything else do its course. Go out and do your best and work for what you want, but remember that just because you want it doesn’t mean you’ll get it. The way I look at it, if the good Lord wants you there, he will put you there. If not, I was happy doing what I was doing. I just go out and do my job. Too many people see their goal and that’s all they worry about. They forget about where they’re at now. You’ve just got to do your job and continue until you get the call. Even if you don’t get the call, you can look back and say, ‘Hey, I did everything I could do to reach that goal, but it just didn’t happen.’”
Coming full circle
After years of uncertainty, Mike finally was called up to the major leagues in November 2013.
“I was very excited when I got the call,” he said. “As a coach and manager, you just never knew if you were going to make it. I put in a lot of time and it finally paid off. I was happier for my family than I was for myself because they’ve given up so much to help me pursue this dream.”
“We’re very thankful and very excited,” Sheri said. “Ever since he was drafted in 1977, his goal was to get to big leagues one way or another. We’ve finally come full circle and getting that chance is unbelievable for him.
“After so many years, you wonder if it’s just not meant to be,” she said. “Over the years, we just tried to be at peace with wherever we were at. I compare it to when I took piano lessons for many years. I wanted to finish the book I was on and move to the next level, but it takes a lot of practice and time. Mike’s journey to the majors was like that. We’ve just tried to enjoy the journey and embrace it all. Opening day was pretty exciting this year. It was nerve-wracking and crazy, but it was so fun and exciting. Omaha was fun, but not to the same degree as the major leagues.”
Don says Mike’s success is proof that perseverance pays off.
“I’m just glad for him,” he said. “He worked hard to get to the majors. Any boy or girl that stays with what they’re doing and tries to make good, they can make it. I have to give Mike credit. He put in 36 years and kept working his way up. I’m proud of him that he did that.”
“Mike and his wife Sheri certainly deserve this,” Bruggink said. “My wife Judy and I are very happy for both of them and their family.”
Baseball’s biggest stage
Mike currently serves as one of the Royals’ seven coaches. He helps out with everything from infield drills and hitting fungos to soft toss in the batting cages. He is in the dugout during games helping to communicate with other coaches on possible moves that could be made.
His day-to-day duties include scouting other teams.
“I do a lot of computer work and advanced stuff on clubs coming in,” he said. “I look up all the opposing team’s hitters and try to figure out which guys will bunt and what count they will bunt on. I try to find a pattern on when they will do different things.”
Mike also gets to see several familiar faces every day.
“I’ve seen about 50 percent of our current players during my years in the minors,” he said. “I had some of them for a year or two when they came up through our system or were on a rehab stint, so I’ve seen lots of these guys over the last six or seven years.”
As Major League Baseball’s grueling 162-game season wears on, Mike said he is just enjoying his time on baseball’s biggest stage.
“I’m doing all I can to help our club win,” he said. “I’m taking it day-by-day. I’m just enjoying it.”