Willie James: A GOOD PLACE GOING FORWARD

I received a second chance – or a third chance depending on how you keep score. The Royals gave me that first opportunity, and when you get an opportunity to sort of come back home you have to take full advantage of it. Thats what Im working to do, showing people what Im capable of and what I can do. But it wasnt just the Royals who have given me another chance, it was Kansas City. Through the work with the Willie Wilson Baseball Foundation, Ive been introduced to a lot of members of the Kansas City corporate community. Theyve been able to look past how I might have acted as a player and given me a chance to show them some things that I wasnt capable of showing them before. Through these relationships, I do corporate speaking engagements sharing my stories of success and failure. I’m involved with several charities and foundations such as Project Walk and try to help raise awareness andfunding for them. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum has also opened up many doors for me. It started with events at the museum, and Ill be forever grateful for that. In 2006, I started co-hosting the Legends Luncheons with Al Fitzmorris, which gave me the confidence to do radio and TV broadcast spots. Its given me a chance to do some very fun things like walk the red carpet at the premiere of 42 The Jackie Robinson Story, when it was in Kansas City. I got to meet Harrison Ford, one of the stars of the movie. I was waiting for the elevator when he stepped out of it, and he came up and said, How are you doing? I was sort of shocked, and I just sort of stammered out, Hey, Harrison, how you doing? Flat Stanly made an appearance at Cubs Fantasy Camp with me and my friend Eddie Vedder.

Ive also been able to maintain and renew friendships with guys I played with and against – not just the Royals players. I have played in the Buck ONeil Golf Tournament for the past seven years, serving as co-chair one year. At the premiere of the movie, I got a chance to see Bobby Bonilla and Tony Clark, who was with the Diamondbacks. Theyre both part of the MLBPAA (Major League Baseball Players Alumni) I usually do two or three events a year with MLBPAA such as clinics, legends games or golf outings. I also work with other charities – not only the ones with the Willie Wilson Baseball Foundation. During spring training I go to Arizona and help Fergie Jenkins with his foundation raising money for charities for many of the teams who have spring training down there. We do autograph sessions at the spring training games, and the money we raise is given to different charities for each of the teams. When Im down there I get to hang out with some of the other guys who won batting championships. And, of course, while in Arizona I get some golf in while Kansas City experiences cold wintery weather. In 2012, when the All-Star Game was in Kansas City, I got to take part in a lot of the activities. That was pretty cool because the All-Star games I played in were some of the highlights of my playing career. I was just in awe of some of the players when I got selected to play, and it was an honor to be on the field with them. To be around the All-Star Game again was a very special experience. I still dont like being entirely in the spotlight. Many people dont realize, but Im really shy. Im trying to get better about it. I tend to position myself near a door so I can make a quick escape from places if I need to. (Laughter) Heres a perfect example of how Im trying to change. I was on a flight recently coming back to Kansas City, and people were recognizing me on the plane. Before, I would have had my earphones on and stuck my nose into a magazine or a newspaper or something and never made eye contact. Now Im a little more comfortable with the recognition, and I have some fun with it. It doesnt always work, and you cant please everybody with your actions, but Im trying to be better about that. Im working some with Metro Sports on Time Warner Cable. Me … in the media … Who would have ever thought that? Right? (Laughter) Im working as an analyst on The Blue Zone, some college games, AAA games and AA games. That has been fun, and its just low-key enough where I really like it. Good friend Frank White and I at the Willie Wilson Legends game in 2012.

Thats actually shown me another side of the business. As a player, I never saw the media side, I would just hear a question and wonder sometimes, Where in the hell did that come from? I never thought about the job the reporters had to do. As a former player, I look at it a little differently than a reporter might. If Im going to ask a difficult question,I tell the player beforehand that Im going to ask it. I dont just turn on the camera and ask him because I always hated that as a player. One of the more proud moments of my life is when I was selected to sit in the Buck ONeil Legacy  seat at a Royals home game. It makes me feel good to be a part of that, and it gives me something to look forward to whenever I have games that were doing. And it keeps my face out there, keeps me out there. Financially, Ive started to get my life back together. I dont owe any money right now, and Im not living check to check. Thats one of the things that I try to emphasize with the kids when I talk with them at the clinics. With hard work you can get back on your feet. If you do things the right way, people will give you another chance. Most days are good days. Not every day is a perfect day, but Im enjoying my life right now – more than I ever did before. Im in a good place in my life right now. Im going to strive and keep it there. I cant control the things that I did in my past. Theyre in the past. The only thing I can do is control the things Im doing now.

I hope you have enjoyed my story and learning the highs and lows I have experienced to get to the level of success Im at today. I had a lot of people who saw something in me that I did not see in myself. Thanks to each of them who took the time to talk, listen, show and teach. Id like to close with one of my quotes, I tend to look at life like the game of baseball. What might happen in the first inning dictates how we handle the ninth. 

Willie James: A GOOD PLACE GOING FORWARD

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