Three years after leaving federal prison and 26 years after his playing days in the major leagues ended, Willie Mays Aikens is back in baseball as an employee of the team with which he achieved his greatest glory in the sport.
The Kansas City Royals hired the 56-year-old Aikens on Tuesday as a minor league coach, based at the team's complex in Surprise, Ariz.
"I'm blessed, I'm thankful, I'm at peace, I'm joyful and I'm thrilled with life right now," Aikens told ESPN.com by phone Tuesday. "I'd like to put my skills as a hitter to work for the players in the Royals organization."
In the 1980 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, the left-handed hitting Royals first baseman and designated hitter batted .400, drove in the winning run in the Royals' first World Series game win ever and became the first player in history with two two-homer games in a single Series. Aikens hit 88 home runs during four years with the Royals beginning in 1980 and a total of 110 homers in a career that also included two-year stays with the Angels and Blue Jays. His lifetime batting average was .271.
After serving 14 years on crack cocaine charges, Aikens was released in 2008 as mandatory minimum sentencing laws were overturned, because of the disparities in crack and powder cocaine cases.
Upon his release, Aikens apologized to Royals fans and said he hoped to get back into baseball.
Since his release, Aikens has lived in Kansas City, working primarily on a road construction crew and making public appearances to speak out against drugs. Aikens testified in 2009 before a House Judiciary Committee examining the sentencing issue and its racial implications. The vastly divergent mandatory minimums in crack and powder cocaine cases had been enacted in the wake of the 1986 death of former Maryland basketball star Len Bias, which was initially and erroneously attributed to a crack cocaine overdose.
"Royals fans are well aware of Willie's background and what troubles he has overcome in his life," Royals director of minor league operations Scott Sharp said in a statement. "We feel confident that his story and experiences will serve as a positive influence to all the young players in our organization that he will coach and mentor. His passion for the game of baseball and the Kansas City Royals, specifically, will be a major asset in his new position."
While he was in prison, Aikens received a letter from commissioner Bud Selig, pledging to try to help him find a role in baseball upon his release. But Aikens says no such opportunities were presented to him until this offer from the Royals.
"I don't want to just teach young players about the fundamentals of hitting but to help and mentor some of the guys if they are having problems off the field," Aikens said. "I have that life experience, as a person who was successful and hit rock bottom. If I can go in and talk to the guys and keep them from going in the same direction I went in, it'll be a blessing for them, too."
William Weinbaum is a producer for ESPN's Enterprise Unit. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.