It may have been another sub .500 year for the Nationals, but there’s at least one post-season accolade Nats fans can be proud of. In December of last year, Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein donated a kidney to his brother Ken, in what has become something of an Eckstein family tradition:
Rick Eckstein, the hitting coach for the Washington Nationals, remembers his mother speaking those words to him when the family of seven found out that, while in high school, Susan, Eckstein’s oldest sister, suffered from glomerulonephritis, a genetic kidney disease that leads to kidney failure. The words sustained him throughout not only that first family medical challenge in 1988, but the many that have followed.
The disease, passed down to the family from the children’s father, Whitney, has affected the entire family. Those who do not suffer from the disease — including Eckstein and his youngest brother, David, a former National League all-star — have made their contributions in the form of donating kidneys. Eckstein’s mother, Patricia, donated her kidney to Susan in 1989. Since then, Eckstein’s other sister, brother and father have all received transplants.
Last December, Eckstein took his turn at the plate, donating his kidney to his brother Ken. It was a decision that he made last summer when Ken was on dialysis and “it was touch and go,” Eckstein said, sitting in his red and white uniform in the Nationals dugout during a recent home stand.
As a lifelong Catholic who lives his faith daily, Eckstein stood before the young people as an example of how it is possible to succeed professionally in athletics while remaining rooted in the Catholic faith.
“Rick is a role model … in terms of his faith and his character,” said Ray McKenna, founder of CAC, to the group gathered to honor Eckstein and the young athletes. “Everybody in that locker room … respect(s) Rick. They look up to him and they think the world of him. That’s because of his character, his dedication to baseball and his dedication to his faith.”
Having stand-up guys like Eckstein around the clubhouse to lead the young but otherwise talented Nationals squad bodes well for the future.