Former Royals star Willie Wilson stood tall while holding his follow-through after driving a golf ball and belted out the words, “Thank you!”
A spectator at Swope Memorial Golf Course could’ve easily assumed Wilson’s thanks was for landing his ball on the green. But Wilson, who was dedicating his time Monday morning to the 24th annual First Call Celebrity Golf Tournament, had a bigger picture in mind.
“Time doesn’t really matter when you’re helping,” said Wilson, 61. “If I didn’t get help, I’d probably be dead.”
Wilson, a member of the 1985 World Series champions, battled drug addiction during his career. He became the first active major-leaguer to serve jail time in 1983, when he spent 81 days in prison after being busted for cocaine.
Despite the off-field issues, Wilson had an illustrious baseball career, spending 15 of 19 big-league seasons with the Royals. He won the American League batting title in 1982 and led the league in triples five times. His career total of 668 stolen bases ranks 12th all-time. But with all his success, came the temptations and drugs — even after his career ended.
When he retired in 1994, Wilson’s addiction got even worse. He recalled drugs becoming his friend and thinking about them from morning to night.
It wasn’t until the late 1990’s that Wilson checked himself in and got help at Shawnee Mission Medical Center. He says his life has been overjoyed with blessings since.
“There’s always things you’re doing that you know you shouldn’t be doing,” Wilson said. “It makes me feel good I checked myself in, and from that point on, tried to do what I could do to stay clean and stay healthy.”
Now, Wilson spends his time giving back to those who need help. He’s paired with First Call, a drug addiction treatment center in Kansas City, to raise awareness and stop addiction before it’s too late. All proceeds from Monday’s tournament went to First Call.
His efforts have sparked interest among several former professional Kansas City athletes and different corporations.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum executive president Bob Kendrick, former Royals pitcher Al Fitzmorris, former Chiefs linebacker Shawn Barber and former Chiefs receiver Eddie Kennison were in attendance on Monday.
“Idle time is dangerous when it’s misused,” Kendrick said. “It doesn’t take much to find trouble. Anything that you can do that gets you into an active environment … to be out playing golf, recreational or otherwise, it keeps you out of trouble. Willie has been an important part of the Kansas City community for a long time. Having his name associated with this organization means a great deal. He clearly believes in the cause.”
Susan Whitmaker, president and CEO of First Call, echoed Kendrick’s remarks about Wilson.
“He (Wilson) supports our mission,” Whitmaker said. “He helps attract other people who are celebrities and gathers them to battle drug addiction in the Kansas City area. For him to be able to give back like this, it means everything.”
First Call didn’t keep score or a leader board during Monday’s event. Barber, who was in Wilson’s group, insisted he had the fewest strokes.
For Wilson, finishing in first didn’t matter.
“We’re raising money and awareness,” Wilson said. “But the real winners of today are the ones who are going to receive help against their addictions. Nothing can beat that.”