Rockland Rockland to the Rockies: Suffern’s Walt Weiss

Never the right time for an injured D. Wright or Parnell

BY JOE RINI

Photo by Lauren Kate Rosenblum
Photo by Lauren Kate Rosenblum

The leap from high school baseball coach to major league manager may seem improbable – except if that major league manager is Suffern native Walt Weiss of the Colorado Rockies. Among his accomplishments, this former star athlete at Suffern High School’s class of 1982 was an American League Rookie of the Year, the starting shortstop for the World Champion Oakland A’s, and a National League All-Star during his 14 year major league career.

After his playing days ended, Weiss was an advisor in the Rockies front office for six years and more recently, the coach of Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado when the Rockies named him their new manager last November. On Tuesday August 6, Weiss made his first trip to Citi Field as manager of the Rockies and spoke with the Rockland County Times prior to the game, a 3-2 Mets victory.

Weiss starred at Suffern High School with Tony DeFrancesco, who also played professional baseball and managed the Houston Astros last season. Recalling DeFrancesco, who graduated a year ahead of him, Weiss said, “He was the guy I looked up to…the leader of all our teams,” and said it was a tribute to the Suffern baseball program to have two individuals play pro ball and later manage in the major leagues.

Weiss said he was influenced by the managers bookending his career, Tony LaRussa and Bobby Cox, whose Hall of Fame plaques await them. As his manager for the first six years of his career, Weiss said LaRussa probably had the biggest influence on him in terms of his learning about the game. Where LaRussa showed confidence in the young Walt Weiss by making him the starting shortstop on three World Series bound teams at the beginning of his career, as a part-time player for Bobby Cox’s pennant winning Atlanta Braves, Weiss said sitting alongside the Braves manager, he began to, “Think along with Bobby…seeing the game through a manager’s eyes.”

Discussing the challenges of being a manager, Weiss mentioned his various responsibilities within the organization and said while a player needs to stay in the moment, a manger needs to “think ahead a lot…and plan on what might happen.” During the course of game there could be “30 to 40 what if” situations to consider, of which only a few will materialize.

With his own players, Weiss said he tries to instill the message “Once identified as a ‘winner,’ winning can do wonders for your career. “He reminds them that managers and general managers look for players who have the “Ability to help a team win.” He said there can be a lot of “distractions” at the major league level, namely money and fame, but if players follow a simple formula with winning as a goal, things will fall into place.

As far as his managerial philosophy, Weiss said he tries to give his players “The freedom to let their athleticism shine.” For example, everyone has the green light to steal a base when they want to or swing with a 3-0 count unless the take sign is on. He wants guys to, “Play hard, play right, and execute,” and mentioned the importance of being both “tough and smart.” He believes having this type of aggressive approach to the game can help a player overcome any doubts or fears he has about playing on the major league level.

Inevitably, when guys play aggressively, mistakes are bound to be made and in those cases, Weiss said he or his coaches will approach the player in a, “Factual tone” without being judgmental, adding, “I can’t berate a player if I tell him ‘to let it fly.’”

While the current road trip has seen the Rockies drop four games in the standings in the past week, long term, Walt Weiss, a “winner” with a history of eight post-season appearances in 14 years, could be the man to return the Rockies to the post-season for the first time since 2009.

The Mets hopes for a strong second half in the 2013 season were dealt a blow with the addition of David Wright and Bobby Parnell to the 15 day disabled list. Wright suffered a grade 2-hamstring strain on August 2 and manager Terry Collins said he could be out 3 to 5 weeks. Parnell, who has excelled this year as the Mets closer, was added to the DL on Tuesday with a herniated disk, which could possibly require surgery. For the moment, it will be closer by committee to replace Parnell according to Collins. To help fill in for Wright, the Mets called up the highly touted Wilmer Flores to play third base.

The Mets enter play on Wednesday in fourth place with a record of 50-60. Starting Tuesday, the Mets begin a stretch of 16 games in 16 days including an 11 game, 4 city, road trip, and return to Citi Field on August 20 to play the Atlanta Braves.