I wanted to share this story from our Yankees beat writer Chad Jennings on Suffern grad Walt Weiss, who is now managing the Colorado Rockies.
DENVER — Some 1,700 miles from the baseball field that shares his name, Walt Weiss is home.
He’s been a teenage star at Suffern High School, a first-round pick out of the University of North Carolina, a Rookie of the Year with the Oakland A’s and an All-Star shortstop with the Atlanta Braves.
But Weiss has now spent almost 20 years in Denver. It’s where he raised his kids, laid down roots and keeps family photos scattered throughout his manager’s office at Coors Field.
“If the opportunity was anywhere else, I don’t think I ever would have taken the first step,” he said.
At 49, Weiss is a first-year manager with the surprisingly good Rockies. In his case, “first-year” is very nearly a literal term. His only previous managerial experience came one year ago, when he managed his son’s team at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo.
Weiss had stepped away from professional baseball after the 2008 season, intending to devote himself to his wife, his four boys and the Colorado life that began when he signed with the Rockies as a player in 1994. And for four years, he did exactly that. He became an assistant high school football coach, eventually took over the baseball team and had only vague ideas of one day, maybe, looking into becoming a professional manager.
Former Rockies manager Jim Tracy resigned on Oct. 7. Weiss was named as his replacement exactly a month later.
“I tell people it was a perfect storm, really,” Weiss said. “I didn’t see it coming. But at the same time, when I talked to some of the people here and we talked about getting involved in the interview process, it was one of those things where, man, I’m never going to get another opportunity like this where it’s at home, it’s where I played. I already have relationships established from being here before. All of those things, you put them together, it was a perfect storm.
“The last hurdle was the family, talking to them and seeing if they were going to be on board. Once they were, I was like, all right, let’s go ahead and give this a shot. It happened fast. Three weeks later, I was a manager.”
The convenient story is that the Rockies hired a high school manager. The reality is that they hired a 14-year major-leaguer who stopped playing after the 2000 season and spent seven years — from 2002 to 2008 — serving as a Rockies special assistant, doing everything from amateur scouting to major-league coaching.
“That’s a good headline, but it’s not the story,” Rockies first baseman Todd Helton said. “You’re talking about a guy that, when he played the game, was considered one of the best teammates of anybody in the game. He’s a guy that never had a bad word spoken about him because there were no bad words to speak. … He’s a nice guy, but he’s also not afraid of conflict, which is a good thing. It’s fun to play for a manager that you want to go to battle for.”
In his office, Weiss has baseball and family pictures on the walls. But behind his desk, the most prominent decoration in the room is a nod to his youth: A framed picture of Weiss with Bruce Springsteen, the iconic New Jersey rock star who is wildly popular throughout the New York area.
Weiss said he doesn’t often get back to Suffern, where the high school baseball field is named after him. His father has moved to Florida. His three sisters have moved upstate. His home is in Denver.
But aside from the home he’s made, Weiss still has a love for the one that made him.
“I think we’re definitely a product of our upbringing and where we grew up,” he said. “I think a lot of my principles are still the same. They were shaped by my family and the people I grew up with. My dad was a blue-collar guy, and I think that shaped my views, and that’s a part of who I am today as I manage the Rockies.”
Associated Press photos