If you are looking for a last minute holiday gift for anyone, might I suggest you look at Gregory Jordan’s biography on former Kansas City Royals slugger (and poster boy for 80’s-war-on-drugs mandatory minimum sentencing), Willie Mays Aikens. The bio, Safe at Home, is a remarkable story of a guy who, despite the demons that derailed a promising career, was able to find both God and himself while incarcerated, and has come out with a proverbial new lease on life.
You may recall this incredible piece done by SB Nation’s Amy K. Nelson.
I was lucky enough to have become a pen pal of sorts with Willie, as a part of an email group which he frequently keeps updated on his life, happenings and family.
I was also fortunate to have been able to engage in a Q&A with him about Safe at Home.
HHR: How well do you think Gregory Jordan did in telling your story?
Willie Aikens: Gregory did an outstanding job portraying me just like I was. He portrayed me as a stutterer in my book and he bought great honestly with everything.
HHR: What has been the reaction since it’s come out?
WA: Everything has been positive so far. So many people telling me how my book has touch their lives. So many people going through the same problems as me. My book has given them hope that they can overcome their problems also.
HHR: Your family life plays a large part in the book. How have they received it?
WA: Some people on both sides of my daughter’s families have had some anger toward what was written. They have come to accept what was written and we have moved on. Our relationships now are better than ever.
HHR: What was it about George Brett that made you revere him the way you did and still do?
WA: George Brett is an outstanding human being and hall of famer. We were good friends when we played together and our friendship is still intact. He was the main reason why I was hired by the Kansas City Royals. I have always admired the way George played the game of baseball and he is the best hitter I played with.
HHR: Describe your relationship with Hal McRae.
WA: Hal McRae tried to help me with my problems while we played together in KC. We stayed in contact throughout my period of incarceration. He was the reason why I got my first job coming out of prison. We still stay in contact and Hal is a great person also, just like George.
HHR: Are you surprised that your old teammates, who in the grand scheme of things were a part of a special, but very small timeframe in your life (3-4 years?), are as loving and supportive as you’ve made them out to be.
WA: I am not surprised at all. We had a great relationship as teammates and off the field as well. These guys are true caring human beings and special to. My connection with them is real and our history together is well documented.
HHR: While you were in with many who harmed others for much worse crimes, you concede that your incarceration essentially saved you. Can you elaborate?
WA: Being taken out of that situation (getting arrested) saved my life. I was smoking cocaine everyday and drinking plenty of alcohol. I had no plans to quit what I was doing, so eventually I would have destroyed my life. Going to prison was a blessing in disguise, but it took me years to realize that. I gained my sobriety, gained a spiritual life and gained a relationship back with my family. Praise God.
HHR: While you seem to have turned a page, is there much resentment left?
WA: Forgiveness is the best weapon to use after being setup by somebody. The KC Police department in KC set me up. They did it for bad, but God meant good for me. No resentment against anybody. I have given all that back to the people who tried to screw me.
HHR: Are you still in contact with anyone back in Seneca?
WA: I will always be in contact with people in Seneca. Seneca is my hometown and I still have roots there. Nothing will ever separate me from Seneca, except death.
HHR: How does it feel to be back in baseball?
WA: Being back in baseball is a tremendous blessing for me. It is something I prayed for while in prison. I figured my chances of getting back into baseball were pretty slim and none, but God has touched many hearts and that is the reason why I am working in baseball again. I am thrilled to death to be a part of the KC Royals organization.
HHR: Your passion and love for the sport never seemed to be in question. Can you describe what the game itself means to you?
WA: Baseball has meant everything to me. Baseball made my name what it is today. Baseball put me into money and fame early in my life. Baseball allowed me to meet many, many women and become a celebrity. Baseball with a spiritual life would have been a whole lot better, but it didn’t happen that way. Early in my life baseball and sports kept me busy, which allowed me to stay out of trouble.
HHR: Does your faith continue to grow during this chapter in your life?
WA: My faith will continue to grow as long as I glorify God and Praise his holy name. My faith will continue to grow as long as I read my bible and go to church. My faith will continue to grow as long as I continue to do speaking engagements and sharing my testimony. I wake each day thinking of things to do to help my faith continue to grow.
HHR: What now is your ultimate goal in life? What do you aspire to?
WA: My goal is to continue to do what I am doing. Praise God daily. Show other people how God has blessed my life. I do that by sharing my testimony and spreading the word about the good news of the gospel. My goal is to continue to be a good father to my kids and an obedient husband to my wife. My goal is to bring people into the family of accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. My goal is to have eternal life with God after I am finish doing his work on this planet. My goal is to stay clean and sober. My goal is to help the prisoners come home. I aspire to help the young people make better decisions in their young lives. There are many more goals we all can accomplish if we just try.