Mike Jirschele sometimes wonders with regret and relief, Why not me?
The former Oklahoma City 89er infielder's three brothers have all had muscular dystrophy. Oldest brother Doug died last October. Younger brother Pete died three years ago. Youngest brother Jim, 37, is Jirschele's only remaining male sibling.
"It's made me realize how fortunate I am to be able to just get up and tie my shoes in the morning by myself, said Jirschele, 46, in Oklahoma City this week as the Omaha Royals' manager.
"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. They really couldn't do anything.
The Jirschele (Jir'-shuh-lee) brothers and their four sisters grew up in the northeast Wisconsin community of Clintonville (population 4,736), where Mike and Jim, a radio broadcaster, still live, along with their parents.
"Doug and I were real close. It was almost like I was playing for him, Mike said. "And he felt like he was me out there. He mentioned that.
Mike Jirschele is a legendary sports figure in Clintonville, making first-team All-State in baseball, basketball and football. He scored six touchdowns in a football game, set state tournament scoring records in basketball and was a fifth-round draft choice in baseball.
But oldest brother Doug has also been a big deal in Clintonville sports; every year, the school holds the Doug Jirschele Sports Award banquet.
"I was so-so, Mike Jirschele modestly said of his storied high school sports career. "I felt like I was all right, but I never really felt like I was good.
"Just being around my brothers and everything, I never took anything for granted. I always tried to go out of my way to do things with them and make sure they were taken care of and make sure nobody ever picked on them.
On one side, Jirschele comes from a family stricken by an awful disease that takes away even the ability to roll over in bed. On the other side, he comes from an extremely athletic family.
Father, like son, is a sports legend in Clintonville. Mike's dad, Don Jirschele, scored seven touchdowns in a high school game. He played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky and signed a Green Bay Packers contract. He could have been a pro baseball player, too.
Mike Jirschele's father-in-law, Carl Bruggink, was the Clintonville High School basketball coach for 41 years. He won nearly 600 games, coached eight state tournament teams and won two state titles.
Bruggink coached not only Mike Jirschele, but Mike's oldest son, Jeremy, who was a two-time NCAA Division III All-America second baseman at Wisconsin-Osh Kosh. This month, the Kansas City Royals drafted Jeremy in the 30th round, so he could someday play for his father.
Jirschele's youngest son, Justin, a high school freshman, is an athlete, too, in baseball, basketball and football. So was daughter Jennifer, a college student now who played softball, volleyball and basketball for Clintonville High.
Keeping the Jirschele "team going is Sheri Jirschele, Mike's wife of 25 years. They were newlyweds when Mike played for the 89ers, from 1983-85.
Jirschele and RedHawks manager Bobby Jones, who matched wits Tuesday night during the first 89er Night at SBC Bricktown Ballpark, were teammates in 1983.
"Jirsch has been a friend of mine for a long time, Jones said. "We used to pal around together after games. We've had some good times together. He's a good baseball man.
Jirschele said, "When I first came up, Bobby was in Triple-A, and he really helped me a lot as far as learning the game, how to play the game. When you talk about having the young player and veteran mix, he's the perfect example of what you want.
"Jirsch hasn't enjoyed managing against "Jonesy, though. Going into Tuesday night's game, Jirschele's record was 10-23 against Jones, including 5-11 each of the past two seasons. In Jirschele's first stint as Omaha's manager, 1995-97, he was 43-33 against Oklahoma City manager Greg Biagini.
"I can't beat Bobby, Jirschele said with a grin. "He beats me up every year.
But Jirschele has beaten his biggest potential opponent, muscular dystrophy, though neither he nor anyone else can understand why he is the fortunate one, the fortunate son, in the otherwise athletic Jirschele family.
"There's no reason why, Mike said. "Nobody knows why I was the only boy out of four that didn't get muscular dystrophy. My dad was a real good athlete. I think I got his genes.Archive ID: 2478060