Rickie Weeks takes Milwaukee by Storm
MILWAUKEE — Throughout the course of his 25-year major league career,
one Rickey often added to his legend by referring to himself in the third person. This Rickey also happened to be the
guy that another Rickie admired as a youngster.
“The player who I actually looked up to and watched a lot was Rickey Henderson,” said Rickie Weeks, the
Milwaukee Brewers’ 22-year-old rookie second baseman. “That’s who I grew up watching because he was on TV.”
The first Rickey, the all-time leader in stolen bases and runs scored, is a certain Hall of Famer. The second Rickie,
with slightly more than month’s experience in the majors, has already demonstrated the makings of a future star.
“He’s been impressive up to this point, and he’s got a really nice career ahead of him,” Brewers
right fielder Geoff Jenkins said of the 6-foot, 195-pound Weeks.
While Henderson always outwardly appeared confident — many people would say cocky — Weeks prefers to take
a different approach. His self-confidence is still present, to be sure. But unlike Henderson, don’t ever expect to hear
Rickie effusively praising Rickie.
“I have a great deal of confidence in myself,” Weeks said. “I’m not going to say I’m
real boastful about myself at all because I hardly ever talk about myself in any kind of manner.
“But for the most part, you’ve got to feel like you’re confident in your game and that you want to
go out there and not be afraid to do anything.”
Weeks would rather let his quick bat do the talking for him. After being called up from Triple-A Nashville (where he
hit .320 with 14 doubles, nine triples, 12 home runs, 48 RBI, a .435 on-base percentage and a .655 slugging percentage in
55 games) on June 11, he hasn’t cooled down much.
Despite having to adjust to the daily rigors of big league life — learning new pitchers, the travel, fans’
requests for autographs and pictures, playing in 40,000-seat ballparks, dealing with the media, etc. — Weeks hit a solid
.270 in his first 39 games (through July 24). He had also tallied six doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 19 RBI, seven
stolen bases and compiled a .365 OBP and a .480 slugging percentage.
During a recent TV broadcast, Brewers play-by-play man Daron Sutton passed along an interesting tidbit from St. Louis
Cardinals All-Star shortstop David Eckstein, whom Weeks has grown close to through their offseason workouts together in Florida.
Eckstein told Sutton that the only player he’s ever seen hit the ball harder than Weeks is Albert Pujols. A tremendous
compliment for any player, but for a rookie such praise is practically unheard of.
Except that Weeks is no ordinary rookie. Ordinary rookies don’t hit towering 460-foot home runs into the upper
deck (Big Mac Land) at Busch Stadium, a la Mark McGwire, as Weeks did July 18.
Ordinary rookies don’t launch their first big league homer off the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner
(Johan Santana), as Weeks did June 25 at Miller Park. (The ball, by the way, is resting safely back home in Florida with Weeks’
Ordinary rookies don’t carry a team on their back, like Weeks did in a 24-hour span with game-winning bombs July
1-2 vs. Pittsburgh.
And ordinary rookies aren’t perceived as people who can help turn around a franchise that has been mired in mediocrity
— and sometimes worse — for the better part of the last two decades. Yet that’s exactly how Weeks wants
people to look at him.
“You’ve got to view that as some sort of motivation because you want to be here for a long time, and at
the same time you can’t take things for granted,” he said. “… You can get hurt — things happen
— so you want to come out here and play like it’s your last day.”
Milwaukee hitting coach Butch Wynegar has previously said that Weeks has the quickest hands he’s ever seen. Similar
to the New York Yankees’ Gary Sheffield, Weeks rapidly waggles his bat back and forth before every pitch, a maneuver
he said he originally used in Little League and went back to last year in the Arizona Fall League to help improve his timing
and rhythm at the plate.
“He’s got super quick hands, and he generates a lot of power with it,” Wynegar said. “He’s
a kid that I think one day is going to hit 25, 30 home runs in the big leagues just because of his bat speed. He still has
a lot of things to learn at this level here, but I think he’s done a tremendous job since he’s been here.”
However, it’s not only the mammoth shots he hits in batting practice or games that has impressed Wynegar, who
has often drawn the ire of Brewers’ fans the last few seasons because of Milwaukee’s inability to consistently
hit in the clutch. Wynegar specifically cited a Weeks’ 10-pitch at-bat in a recent afternoon home game vs. Washington.
“He had that first and third (situation) when he hit that chopper back to the mound, but you know what? He fouled
a couple tough pitches off and I walked down to him after he cooled off a little bit and told him, ‘I know you didn’t
get the result you wanted, but I’m going to tell you that was a great at-bat.’
“That’s a great at-bat to battle in those conditions with the glare and the shadows coming and everything.
The kid’s going to learn more as he goes along through experience. There’s nothing better than experience, and
he’s going to be a hell of a hitter. He’s going to be a great hitter as time goes on, and his hand speed is going
to help him out so much.”
According to Wynegar, Weeks’ hands are so quick that he sometimes rolls them over too early and hits a ground
ball to the left side of the infield instead of driving the ball into the gap or out of the park. But those hands also allow
Weeks to check his swing on difficult pitches, such as two-strike sliders, whereas many other hitters would have trouble holding
up, and thus strike out.
About the only knock on Weeks ever since the Brewers made him their No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft (second overall) has
been his defense. He committed 10 errors at Nashville earlier this season and has nine since his call-up.
Weeks, Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect as rated by Baseball America entering the season, has worked diligently with
Brewers bench coach/infield instructor Rich Dauer, who set two AL single-season fielding records for a second baseman in 1978
when he went 86 games and 425 consecutive chances without an error. Weeks said Dauer has especially helped him with his positioning,
but other than that defense is pretty simple — in theory, at least.
“Confidence and consistency is the biggest key about defense, so just going there and having ground balls day
in and day out and I should be fine,” Weeks said.
Milwaukee manager Ned Yost agreed.
“You can be in the league 10 years and have a stretch where you can make a lot of errors,” Yost said. “It
doesn’t mean that anything’s happening. The more consistent you are, the better you’re going to be as a
defensive player. And you get consistency through repetition … ground ball after ground ball after ground ball.”
Brewers rookie shortstop J.J. Hardy has been on the other side of the spectrum this season, excelling in the field
while struggling offensively until going on a recent tear. Like Weeks, he’s excited that the two are seen as the Brewers’
double-play combo of the present — and future.
“It makes us feel good about it,” Hardy said. “It’s nice to know that the organization looks
at us like that. We’ve just got to go out there and do what we do, get better and hopefully everything works out the
way everyone wants it to.”
Which, for Weeks, would include improvement in all areas of his game.
“Baseball’s not just about defense. It’s not just about offense, either,” he said. “So
you’ve got to go out there and try to put both of them together and try to go out there and be a more complete player.”
Talk has already surfaced that with a strong second half Weeks could become a contender for the National League Rookie
of the Year award. Weeks, though, would rather focus on helping the Brewers end their run of 12 consecutive losing seasons.
“You can’t shoot for that because … we’re trying to win games here,” he said. “If
you do that, you’re being selfish to yourself and to the team as well. So you want to go out here and try to win games
and through doing that, then hopefully something like that will come about.
“But for the most part you don’t want to worry about that. You just want to go out there and do your job
on the field and have fun.”
Jeremy Reeves is a sports reporter for the Kenosha (Wis.) News.
Weeks' page @ Baseball-Almanac.com
Weeks' page @ MilwaukeeBrewers.com
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