AURORA, Colo. (AP) – A few of his high school players sauntered out to the diamond on a balmy Thursday afternoon, congregating near the infield grass that’s beginning to turn brown.
A day after hearing the news that Walt Weiss, their coach at Regis Jesuit, was heading back to the big leagues as manager of the Colorado Rockies, they were still a little stunned. That was their coach, the one who just six months ago was taking grounders with them in practice – on this field – as he guided the team to the state semifinals.
Now, Weiss is making the unusual leap from high school coach to major league manager.
His players are already imagining the possibilities. Maybe Weiss will give them a tour of the clubhouse, or perhaps invite them to watch batting practice at Coors Field.
They’re certain of this much: He’s the right fit to turn around a team that finished a franchise-worst 64-98 last season.
“The way he respects the game, he’ll be a very successful coach,” senior catcher Jake Leathers said. “He’s going to get the program headed in the right direction.”
Everywhere they looked around the field at Regis, there were little reminders of Weiss.
Over there, that’s where Weiss hit a double into the right-center gap one day in practice, an effortless swing filled with so much power. He was just clowning around to loosen the mood before a big game.
And over there, that’s where he gave an impromptu tutorial on the proper way to handle the infield fly rule if you’re on base.
A lesson that would come in handy later.
More than anything, though, his players will remember the little sayings Weiss used to utter before they took the field. Nothing earth shattering, just things like: “Play the game hard and play the game right” or, “Stay humble, because if you’re not humble, the game will find a way to humble you.”
Those axioms hit their mark.
“He knows how to play it right and teach it well,” said junior pitcher David Peterson, who just so happened to unintentionally show up for school Thursday wearing a Rockies sweatshirt. “He’ll take over the clubhouse and turn things around.”
Peterson will miss listening to Weiss’ stories in the dugout. The 48-year-old Weiss was full of tales, too, ones he accumulated by playing shortstop for parts of 14 seasons in the majors. He started with Oakland (1987-92), where he won the 1988 AL Rookie of the Year award, and also had stops in Florida (1993), Colorado (1994-97) and Atlanta (1998-2000).
“I liked picking his brain and seeing what his days in the bigs were like,” Peterson said. “One story he told me was when he was with the A’s and he was in a World Series game. He walked out on the field and just looked up at the whole crowd, in shock. It’s what we all dream of and hearing what it’s like was incredible.”
Leathers has known Weiss for quite some time, having grown up with Weiss’ son, Brody, who’s in his senior year at the school. It was on the advice of Weiss that Leathers switched from third base to catcher.
“It’s opened so many doors for me,” said Leathers, who’s now being recruited by colleges. “What he can see in you and how you play the game, it’s unbelievable.”
The Rockies are hoping Weiss can have that kind of impact on Rockies players not all that much older than his high school team. The Rockies boast a young nucleus, featuring youthful players such as 23-year-old infielder Josh Rutledge and 24-year-old righty Jhoulys Chacin.
Weiss’ ability to relate to his players may be one of his biggest attributes.
“The game is the same from when you’re 10 to 25,” said junior pitcher and first baseman Reagan Todd, who’s already committed to Arizona State. “Baseball is baseball. He will be able to teach.
“He’s very patient and calm. But when comes to game time, he’s intense.”
Asked for any good Weiss stories, junior outfielder Brooks Urich just laughed. He will never forget Weiss taking infield with the team during practice.
“Not to say he’s old or anything, but he was just so smooth and threw the ball around the infield like he was playing in the majors the day before,” Urich said. “Just amazing.”
Weiss and Arizona Diamondbacks coach Matt Williams were the finalists to replace manager Jim Tracy, who resigned Oct. 7 with one year and $1.4 million left on his contract. Rockies bench coach Tom Runnells and first baseman Jason Giambi also received interviews.
“It’s a great hire,” Urich said of Weiss. “Everyone has respect for coach Weiss. There’s never a bad word said about him.”
As for receiving any special perks at the ballpark now that his former coach is leading the Rockies, Leathers said that’s hardly necessary.
“Just having him on my resume, being my coach, that’s plenty,” Leathers said.
– By Pat Graham, AP Sports Writer
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)