Mike Jirschele’s long road to the major leagues is finally complete.
Jirschele, Omaha’s manager for 14 seasons — including the last 11 — was added to the Kansas City Royals’ coaching staff Friday, completing his 37-season odyssey through the minors that began as an 18-year-old draft pick.
“It’s an exciting time for me, but I’m more excited for my family than myself,” Jirschele said. “It was a long road for them. I missed a lot of time with my kids growing up, and my wife had a lot of hard summers with the kids by herself while I was playing. They had a lot rougher road than I did.”
Jirschele, 54, is one of three additions to the Royals’ staff, along with the previously announced hiring of former big league manager Dale Sveum and Friday’s hiring of another former big league manager Don Wakamatsu. Jirschele said his role on Ned Yost’s staff is varied, and will include working with infielders.
Jirschele, the Omaha franchise’s all-time winningest — and losingest — manager at 995-1,018, finished his Omaha career with three consecutive division titles and Pacific Coast League championships in 2011 and 2013. The Storm Chasers won the one-game Triple A National Championship in September. In the past four years, Omaha compiled a regular-season record of 313-248.
But Jirschele downplayed the Class AAA team’s on-field success as a potential contributing factor in earning a big league job.
“They watch how you go about your business, how you communicate, how you teach … and that’s how you land jobs,” he said. “You could put a lot of guys in the position I was in and they’re going to win championships, too. I’ve been very fortunate the last few years to have good personnel and a good coaching staff with me, and we got the job done and won a couple of championships.”
Many of the players Jirschele has worked with the past few seasons have moved into prominent roles on the big league team.
“I think it helps that three-fourths (30 of 43) of that club I’ve had at sometime or another during the course of careers,” Jirschele said. “They know me, and I know them. So hopefully it’s going to be a good fit.”
A fifth-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 1977 out of Clintonville, Wis., Jirschele reached Class AAA by 1982 but never broke through to the majors. He hit .225 in 999 games through 13 seasons (he didn’t play in 1986 after being released by the Tigers at the end of spring training). He played briefly for Omaha in 1988 and 1989, and his final playing appearance came as a player-coach for a Class A team in 1990.
He rose quickly through the managerial ranks, winning a title in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1992, a half-season division title in 1993 in low Class A, and he won the high Class A Carolina League title in 1994 — after which he was named minor league manager of the year by the Sporting News. He was promoted to Class AAA in 1995 and spent three years piloting the O-Royals before performing other duties within the organization — he was Kansas City’s roving minor league infield instructor in 1998, then was the organization’s coordinator of minor league instruction from 1999 through 2002.
After returning to Omaha in 2003, he led the team back to the playoffs after an 11-year drought in 2011 and delivered the franchise’s first league title since 1990. His overall managerial record is 1,208-1,134.
“It’s going to be a lot different now, because I feel like I’m home in Omaha since I’ve been there so many years,” Jirschele said. “I’ve made a lot of friends there, met a lot of good people. When you’ve been there so long, it’s like it’s your family.”
Jirschele, who still lives in Clintonville and has had the same offseason job touching up merchandise for a local furniture store for years, said he reported for work as usual Friday.
“My boss asked if I was giving my two weeks notice since I got a big league job,” Jirschele said. “But I said, ‘Nope, you’re stuck with me.’ ”
Over the years, Jirschele has told hundreds of players they were going to the majors. He said being promoted himself probably doesn’t have quite the thrill that it holds for players, but that there is a level of satisfaction.
“Anybody who works in the minor leagues, whether it’s a player or staff member, is working to get to the big leagues,” Jirschele said.