From homers to healing: Ex-Sox slugger Soderholm helping people through Willowbrook wellness center

Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional series about former professional baseball players living in the suburbs.

Forty-seven years ago, Eric Soderholm was one of the South Side Hitmen, bashing home runs and thrilling fans as a third baseman for the pennant-chasing Chicago White Sox.

Life is decidedly more serene today for the 75-year-old Soderholm. He co-owns the SoderWorld Wellness Center & Academy, a Willowbrook facility offering yoga classes, massages from licensed therapists, meditation, workshops and other soothing activities in a tranquil setting.

With its mystically decorated therapy rooms and a garden containing a winding walking path, contemplative alcoves and water features, SoderWorld is about as far from the sights and sounds — and, frankly, the smells — of old Comiskey Park as Soderholm could possibly get.

“It’s been quite a journey,” said Soderholm, of Willowbrook.

  Eric Soderholm talks about his life in — and after — baseball at the Willowbrook wellness center that bears his name. Brian Hill/

A New York native who grew up in Florida, Soderholm was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1968 and made his major league debut with the club three years later.

Soderholm remembers feeling overwhelmed as he entered the Twins’ locker room for the first time, joining a club that featured future Hall of Famers Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Tony Olivia.

“Do I put my pants on the same way?” he thought. “Can I play with these guys at this level?”

He could, remaining in the big leagues for nine years. A knee injury cost Soderholm the 1976 season, but afterward he signed with the White Sox as a free agent and became a star for the team in 1977, a season in which the South Siders had a strong summer but finished third in the American League West.

“(I) loved playing for the White Sox and Bill Veeck,” Soderholm said of the team’s eccentric owner at the time. “He gave me a big chance to play again.”

  Eric Soderholm played for the Twins, White Sox, Rangers and Yankees in a nine-year Major League Baseball career. Russell Lissau/

Soderholm was traded to the Texas Rangers during the 1979 season and wrapped up his career with the New York Yankees in 1980.

With his family settled in the Chicago area, Soderholm remained connected to baseball for years after retirement by working as a scout for the Cubs, running youth baseball camps and offering private hitting instruction. He later found financial success with a ticket brokering operation called Front Row Tickets.

But SoderWorld brought him peace, helping him to move beyond the greed he now admits drove his previous enterprise.

“I wasn’t happy in the space I was at,” Soderholm said. “(SoderWorld) transformed my life.”

Soderholm created the business that bears his name in 1997 with his daughter, Misty, who had been working as a therapist at author and alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra’s center in California. One day she called her dad and said she wanted to run that kind of business in Chicago. After an exploratory trip out west, Soderholm was in.

“We started SoderWorld with no business plan, just a ‘build it and they will come’ belief,” Soderholm said.

Initially located in a Willowbrook shopping center, the business took off. The center expanded twice and then in 2004 relocated to the current facility at 16W501 Neilson Lane, just off Route 83.

  “We’re building a community of like-minded souls,” former White Sox slugger Eric Soderholm says of the people who seek healing and more at his SoderWorld Wellness Center & Academy. Brian Hill/

Operating out of an A-frame building on about 2½ heavily wooded acres, SoderWorld has a large staff of therapists trained in different wellness techniques. In addition to personal and group sessions, SoderWorld hosts art classes, live musical performances, movie showings and other activities.

“We’re building a community of like-minded souls that want a safe place to heal and work on themselves,” Soderholm said.

Every member of the Soderholm family is involved in the business. Misty manages the facility and leads yoga and meditation sessions, among other responsibilities. Her brother, Chahé, is on staff, too. Soderholm’s wife, Ginny, handles the books.

“This is our mission,” Misty Soderholm said.

  Eric Soderholm, right, with his children Misty and Chahé at their SoderWorld Wellness Center & Academy in Willowbrook. Brian Hill/

Eric Soderholm meets with clients as a life coach. He primarily works in an outdoor space equipped with Adirondack chairs that overlooks a pond that’s home to a pair of swans.

“I’m more proud of creating this place, SoderWorld, with my family than I am of playing nine years in the Major Leagues,” Soderholm said.

Soderholm attends charity golf outings as a White Sox alum and receives about a dozen autograph requests through the mail each week. But for the most part, baseball is behind him.

He said he doesn’t even follow the game today.

“That was part of my life back then,” Soderholm said. “I’m grateful for it. But that’s not who I am now.”

  “I’m more proud of creating this place, SoderWorld, with my family than I am of playing nine years in the Major Leagues,” Eric Soderholm said during a recent interview at the wellness center that bears his name. Brian Hill/

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