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Back in the ballgame

Caption
(John Sleezer (MBR))
Former Kansas City Royals' Willie Mays Aikens watches batting practice from the stands before a Royals game, September 20, 2008, at Kaufmann Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Aikens, a recovering addict, is now trying to make up for lost time. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Willie Mays Aikens, who went from World Series star to federal prison inmate, has returned to baseball.

The 56-year-old Aikens was hired Tuesday as a minor league coach by the Kansas City Royals and will work out of their complex in Surprise, Ariz.

Aikens hit four home runs for the Royals in their 1980 Series loss to Philadelphia. He later served almost 14 years on gun, bribery and cocaine charges, and his case was often cited as an argument against the mandatory sentencing guidelines then in place.

Aikens was released from federal custody in June 2008 and had said he hoped to get back into the sport that made him famous.

“Royals fans are well aware of Willie’s background and what troubles he has overcome in his life,” said Scott Sharp, Kansas City’s director of minor league operations. “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.”

Born during the 1954 Indians-Giants World Series and named for Giants star Willie Mays, Aikens played for the Angels, Royals and Blue Jays in an eight-year career.

He had his greatest success with Kansas City from 1980-1983, batting .282 with 77 home runs and 297 RBIs in 511 games.

The Royals’ greatest player in 1980 was George Brett, who hit .390 and was the AL MVP. But Aikens was a star in the World Series, batting .400 with eight RBIs in the six-game loss to the Phillies.

Aikens got the winning hit in Game 3, KC’s first World Series victory. He excelled in the postseason, batting a combined .375 (15-for-40) with 10 RBIs and nine walks in three different series.

Aikens retired with a career average of .271 with 110 home runs and 415 RBIs.

He was living in Kansas City when an undercover police investigation led to his being indicted on four charges of crack cocaine distribution in 1994. He was not scheduled to be released until 2012 but was freed four years early because of changes in federal drug laws.

Upon his release, Aikens apologized to Royals fans and said he hoped to get back into baseball.

“His passion for the game of baseball and the Kansas City Royals, specifically, will be a major asset in his new position,” Sharp said.

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