Associated Press/Jim Prisching
MILWAUKEE -- Ask Rickie Weeks’ former teammates for a favorite memory, and you’ll get a common answer.
It was April 14, 2009, at Miller Park. With Edinson Volquez on the mound for the Reds and throwing heat, Weeks squared to bunt in the fourth inning and was struck squarely on the jaw by a fastball. Medical personnel rushed to home plate. Weeks shooed everyone away and remained in the game.
The moment of impact was captured with perfect clarity by Associated Press photographer Jim Prisching -- an image of toughness so powerful that then-manager Ken Macha had it blown up and hung on his office wall for the rest of his tenure.
“Would’ve killed a normal human,” said former Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy this week, adding with a chuckle, “Poor ball.”
“He told me his jaw clicked for, like, 10 years after that,” said former pitcher Carlos Villanueva.
It’s that toughness that his teammates loved most about Weeks, and why a handful of them believe he will thrive as Brewers associate manager. The title in itself, rather than the traditional “bench coach,” was selected as a mark of respect from the organization with which the former second baseman and slugging leadoff hitter played 11 of his 14 seasons in the Majors.
“We wanted to establish up front that Rickie coming here is something that's going to have a major impact,” said Brewers manager Pat Murphy in his re-introductory press conference on Thursday. “Sometimes you can dissect titles in different ways but he's going to have a huge role in molding and shaping the mindset of this group. I think that demands a bigger leadership title.
“I never had that title as a bench coach. I asked for it, obviously, but [GM] Matt [Arnold] wouldn't give it to me.”
They willingly gave it to Weeks, a favorite of many a former teammate.
“It’s so funny because I texted Rickie before any of this, because in the back of my mind I thought, ‘He would be a good coach,’” said former Brewers outfielder Corey Hart. “I knew he was already in the [Brewers] system and I thought it might be something they would look at. So I wasn’t super surprised. He’s a Brewer and he’s always commanded respect.”
Said Hardy: “I think it’s fantastic. I think a big league coach needs to be consistent with his attitude every day and not be a roller coaster. I think he needs to be respected by the players. I think Rickie is going to be the perfect man for the job.”
What Weeks lacks is professional coaching experience, having just come back to the game as a special assistant to the GM in February 2022. But he’s long been respected within the game for his exploits in college -- his .465 career average at Southern University remains the Division I record -- and for the baseball smarts he brought to his professional career after the Brewers drafted him second overall in 2003. Weeks remembers standing with Craig Counsell and Prince Fielder one day when they were all Brewers teammates, and someone suggesting that Counsell one day would manage, Weeks would be his bench coach and Fielder would be hitting coach.
They didn’t exactly go 3-for-3, but that prediction wasn’t too far off the mark.
“I knew from Day 1 as a kid I was going to be an owner of a baseball team, but for that you need to have a lot of capital,” Weeks said. “But I think I always wanted to work in baseball, to be in a position to be in a small room and make decisions. Never once did I think about managing, but at the same time, you never say never.”
Villanueva, who is years ahead of Weeks in his transition from former player to special assistant and has been a resource to Weeks in learning that role, was involved early in the pitch to bring Weeks back to the dugout -- along with Arnold and Murphy, of course. Weeks was initially hesitant, but Villanueva had a hunch it would work when Weeks didn’t immediately slam the door on the idea.
“He might not talk as much as I do,” said Villanueva, “but he is definitely somebody that commands the attention of guys. That is the biggest win for us in convincing him to be in the dugout. With all the stuff that’s happened, with Craig going and all that stuff, having Rickie there with Murph is a big deal.”
The father of a 7-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son, Weeks said he gave the matter intense thought before agreeing. It meant giving up the flexibility offered by his former role, in which he’d bounce around affiliates and visit the Major League team as needed. Now, he’ll be at Murphy’s side, just like Murphy was for Counsell over the past eight seasons.
“I think that switch has to go off,” Weeks said. “I remember back when I played, you had your offseason then once that switch goes on, there’s no diverting to what goes on on the outside.”
Weeks and Murphy plan to spend several days together to have the sort of baseball conversation that Counsell and Murphy had over their 37-year relationship.
It will take time, but Weeks likes what he has heard from Murphy so far.
“I know you see the fluff and the laughing and the joking and stuff like that, but that’s a baseball man right there,” Weeks said. “I have a lot to learn from him. I have a lot of questions for him. But at the same time I think there’s a good working environment ahead. I’m ready for it.
“The biggest thing for me is the love and discipline. That’s what I do with my kids, too. I believe in that and he believes in that, too, obviously. Good players want to be coached and that’s how you got to go about doing it. There’s no sugarcoating. There’s no fluff. There’s just genuinely being there for them and genuinely wanting to help.”
Weeks’ former teammates will be watching to see what’s next.
“I think he’ll thrive in that role,” Hardy said. “He’s a super smart baseball guy. You don’t play for 14 years and not understand the game, and I think he’ll learn even more being in the dugout and watching every move. I think you can easily build him up to be a manager some day.”
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