Suffern's Walt Weiss: From son's team to big-league manager

Walt Weiss has been hired to replace Jim Walt Weiss has been hired to replace Jim Tracy as manager of the Colorado Rockies. Photo Credit: AP, 2008

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After he was named manager of the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night, Walt Weiss called the man who tirelessly hit him hundreds of ground balls on ballfields in Suffern, long after the game was over and everyone else had gone home for dinner.

Weiss and his father talked for nearly two hours, the son admitting to being nervous. Having spent the last few years coaching his son Brody's Denver-area high school baseball team, Weiss now will try to turn around the last-place team in the National League West.

"It's going to be a new experience for him, but he thinks he can handle it," Walter Weiss Sr. said from his Florida home Thursday. "He's ready."

The younger Weiss, 48, intends to reach out to Tony La Russa, his first big-league manager. La Russa was managing the Oakland A's when Weiss was called up from the minor leagues in September 1987, five years after graduating from Suffern High School, his father recalled.

"He knows the game very well, but there are little things that managers know," his father said. "He had some great managers -- Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox -- who he learned from."

Known more for his glove than his bat, Weiss spent 14 seasons in the major leagues with the A's, Rockies, Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves. He displaced Alfredo Griffin to become Oakland's starting shortstop in 1988, winning Rookie of the Year honors while helping the team to a World Series matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers, which the Dodgers won.

The A's would return to the series the next two years, sweeping the San Francisco Giants in a 1989 Bay Area World Series best remembered for the Loma Prieta earthquake that shook Candlestick Park, then getting swept by the Cincinnati Reds the next year.

Suffern High School athletic director Andy Guccione remembers standing in line waiting for Weiss' autograph, as a boy of 10 or 11, at a baseball card store in Rockland County that long since has gone.

"He was a great guy, always nice, a class act," Guccione said.

The school's longtime varsity baseball coach, Ron Gamma, said Weiss never forgot his hometown during his playing days, sending a sizable check to help out the baseball program every year. The baseball field at Suffern High School is named for him.

Gamma coached Weiss when he was a skinny, long-legged kid playing shortstop for the junior varsity team.

"The first time you saw him play, you knew he was going to be something special," Gamma said.

Jerry Magurno, who coached Weiss on the varsity, recalls a hard-working kid.

"If you ever wanted to see a kid make it, he was that kid, because he worked so hard," Magurno said. "When I see Derek Jeter I think of Walter. He just keeps his mouth shut and does his job. I think he'll have a great rapport with the young kids on that Rockies team."

Weiss was drafted in the first round of the June 1985 draft, along with B.J. Surhoff of Rye. The two attended the University of North Carolina together and remain close friends. Surhoff went on to play with the Milwaukee Brewers and Baltimore Orioles.

The father said his son never tired of taking ground balls, honing his skill through the endless repetition needed to master infield play.

"He never got enough," the father said. "He wore me down before he got worn out. He always was a hard worker."

Weiss' three sisters still live in the Hudson Valley area. But the family home in Suffern has been sold. Walt Weiss Sr. has moved to Florida, where he still umpires youth league games. Before he left, he cleared out the attic. There, he found a small plastic sandwich bag filled with dirt. It was dirt his son had scooped up from the warning track at Yankee Stadium when he was 12 years old, at a game with his dad.

"He said, 'Someday I'll be playing on this dirt,' " the father recalled. "That was how much he wanted it."

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