The people's champ

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

JUPITER, Fla. – Four months later, the flush hasn't left David Eckstein's cheeks.

The winter was good to him, despite having to lug the World Series Most Valuable Player trophy to all those professional wrestling promos. In wrestling, we're thinking, it's always better to be taller than the guy on the trophy.

We missed it, but apparently the Fightin' Ecksteins (David and older brother Rick, the St. Louis Cardinals' Triple-A hitting coach) threw down with the Totally Irritatin' Pierzynskis (A.J., along with Jeff Torborg's son, Dale – don't ask) in some kind of steel-cage match.

Along a somewhat separate theme, Eckstein re-released his children's book, called "Have Heart," with a new chapter about how, if you work hard and play the right way, you not only might win a World Series someday, but you might win two.

He also caught up with some of his old Los Angeles Angels pals – John Lackey, Darin Erstad and ex- and current middle-infield mate Adam Kennedy – to watch the Ohio State-Michigan football game, where everybody got to hear Erstad's stories about being a punter again. You know, presumably.

"It was a whirlwind," Eckstein, the Cardinals' shortstop, said this week, still sweating from an early-morning workout. "The biggest thing we did was the children's book that hopefully will inspire young kids to go out there, and if they dream something they can accomplish it with hard work. The other thing I've been trying to do some good with is organ donation, to please sign up to be an organ donor. Those are the two biggest things that, because of what happened, might have gotten a little more publicity."

And to think how some NFL players are spending their offseason.

Genetics have not been altogether good to the Eckstein family, of course. Two of David's sisters, one of his brothers and his father have required kidney transplants. Now doctors think two of David's nephews – Kenny is 6 and David is 8 – might also need transplants.

"They're not sure about a timetable," he said. "We're hoping they'll be like my father and need it later on in life. But, we think the younger one, Kenny, might be a little quicker."

Kenny, David said, could be mistaken for a 2- or 3-year-old.

"They've been tested," he said. "They definitely have the protein in the urine and all that, the signs that they're going to need it. Kenny's a little more advanced than David."

It seems an unending cycle for the Ecksteins, who thus far have concluded David and Rick should save their kidneys for their own children, should that be necessary.

"I have not been tested yet for my nephews," David said. "I fully see myself some day, somewhere along the way, to have to give up a kidney. The biggest concern in my family, I would definitely love to have kids one day and they want to make sure my kids are OK. That was one of the biggest points with my father with Rick and myself, to see what our family looks like before we start giving them up."

So it is that David Eckstein, at 5-foot-7, takes on so many comers – kidney disease, organ donation, children who need a push, stereotypes of pro athletes, and A.J. Pierzynski's pile driver. And then he plays a full baseball season plus a month, bats .364 and drives in four runs in the World Series, and allows a nation's baseball fans to fall in love without fear of betrayal.

Six years ago he showed up in Angels camp with a glove and a crooked cap, no one sure his arm would last that afternoon, much less nearly 900 big-league games. Now he's a career .283 hitter, a career pest, a career inspiration, a career gamer.

His brother, Rick, crossed his ankles and propped himself against a red fungo bat on the main field here, watching players run home to second, then second to home. The brothers share an engaging personality, a knack for compassion, and an addiction to the game.

"He definitely hasn't changed as a person because of it," Rick said of David's MVP honor. "The greatest thing about that award is you win the World Series. It means you won a championship. That's what he suits up for."

Indeed, it would not have been surprising if Eckstein had blushed on that stage at Busch Stadium.

"In baseball," Rick said, "we get so caught up in the five tools. Sometimes we overlook heart and hustle and how those affect other players. David's a talented player. He has talent. But, he also has a knack for bringing out the best in others. That has value."

The 2006 championship ring will go alongside the 2002 championship ring, David said, to his father, Whitey, who will store it in a safe deposit box. Then it'll be time to start over, to prove again that he is big enough, strong enough, and talented enough to do this. He's been called an overachiever, which, of course, is impossible, but David doesn't mind.

"I have to be full-go," he said. "I have to make sure that is my focus so I don't let off at all. I'm not good enough to let off. … I like to think that maybe I give people hope. I think it's kind of funny because I hear it all the time, 'If you can make it to the majors, I can make it.' "

They mean it as a compliment.

"Right," he said, laughing. "This is a wonderful game. The best thing about it is anybody can play it. There's roles for all different types of guys on the club. If that inspires some guys to go out there and play harder at a younger age and try to achieve it, that's something special."

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