Magic of Michael draws former players, Francona

Jim Thome, Sean Casey and Terry Francona were among the guests

By Tom Williams


Peaking just a few weeks before the playoffs is a good thing say two former Major League Baseball players who were in the Mahoning Valley Wednesday for The Magic of Michael charity fundraiser.

“You always want to peak in September,” said Jim Thome, a Cleveland Indians infielder from 1991-2002. “You’re almost at the end of the year.

“To me, [many] teams that do real well, they peak right now,” Thome said. “It doesn’t guarantee you anything once you get into October, I think we all know that. But you certainly want to play well [in the final weeks].”

Sean Casey, who played high school ball in Pittsburgh and later played for the Indians, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox, agreed.

“I always tell people it’s a marathon, not a sprint, that’s why it’s the greatest game in the world,” Casey said. “I’d rather have this run in September than June, July.”

Casey and Thome were referencing the Indians on Wednesday breaking the American League record for consecutive wins — 21. They were here for Wednesday’s third annual Magic of Michael gathering at The Lake Club.

“We talked about it on the [golf] course — [the timing] is almost a blessing,” Thome said.

The Magic of Michael is the foundation that John and Denise Hirschbeck of Poland created to honor their son, Michael, who died in April 2014. Last November, John Hirschbeck ended his 34-year career as a MLB umpire.

Michael and his older brother John suffered from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare neurogenetic brain disease for which there is no cure. John was 8 when he died in 1993. Michael was 27.

Michael was a diehard Cleveland Indians fan and sometimes served as batboy. How perfect was it that the foundation honoring his memory was hosting a celebration on the day the Indians became the hottest American League team ever?

Thome was a primary guest of honor along with Indians manager Terry Francona and radio broadcaster Tom Hamilton.

“I knew Michael,” Thome said. “We kind of considered him one of us for a long time. When John asked me to do this event, I was humbled. It such a wonderful thing — a lot of people have come together to give back their support and their time.

“It’s a special thing — I’m glad they asked me to come.”

Casey attended last year’s dinner when former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Leyland was the top guest. He returned because he played for Francona’s 2008 Red Sox team.

“He the master of somehow making everybody feel that they’re just as important as [Indians shortstop Francisco] Lindor,” Casey said of Francona. “It’s a amazing — he has a way of communicating with his players.”

Thome admitted he doesn’t often speak at events.

“My history with Cleveland is very special,” said Thome who will be on the Hall of Fame ballot this winter.

“If you’re on the ballot, it’s something special,” Thome said. “It’s the greatest fraternity ever.”

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