Home-field advantage a priority for Weiss
New Rockies manager hoping to revive confidence at Coors Field
DENVER -- Walt Weiss was happy and proud Wednesday afternoon.As junior-varsity offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the football team at Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo., Weiss -- the school's head baseball coach last spring -- was enjoying a promotion of sorts on the football staff. He got to work with the varsity team as it practiced for this weekend's Colorado 5-A state playoff game. Then his cellphone rang with an even bigger offer. The Rockies hired him as the sixth manager in their history. Weiss, who turns 49 on Nov. 28 and is a former standout defensive shortstop who spent part of his 14-year Major League career with the Rockies, replaces Jim Tracy after the Rockies went 64-98 -- the worst finish in their 20 seasons. Weiss is more than a high school coach. He worked as a special assistant to general manager Dan O'Dowd from 2002-08, with instruction and evaluation duties for players throughout the Minor League system and in the Majors. With the big club, he worked with players on specific fundamentals and approaches. "Over the last few weeks I've been able to get my head around this thing, and things just took off after I got involved," Weiss said. "I definitely didn't see this coming before things got started with the Rockies. I wasn't sitting around waiting for the next managerial opening. I had a few casual talks, then things got more serious. "During this process I have been able to envision what the job is going to be like and try to put myself in that position. In the end, it's about trying to lead a group of guys to a common goal and create respect, trust and caring for each other, then you have a chance to do something big." In between his high school duties, Weiss followed the club as a fan and has some familiarity with the roster. "I always had the game in my house, although obviously it's not the same," Weiss said. "I don't know all the ins and outs of the club watching them on TV, but on the surface I think they have some pieces in place on offense that are exciting and we can take advantage of where we play." Weiss was hired to take over a squad with some capable veterans, a huge influx of young players who had some accomplishments and some challenges when forced into action because of injuries, and a developing pitching staff. But it's also a club coming off two straight losing seasons and, chiefly because of the pitching staff's issues that have seemed to turn playing at mile-high altitude into a challenge instead of an advantage, is in need of a shot of confidence. Weiss was part of the 1995 team that went to the playoffs in the Rockies' third year of existence -- at the time a record for an expansion franchise. It was the first year of Coors Field, and the Rockies felt invincible in the high-scoring games there. Even the pitchers figured out how to win. It was long before the team began storing baseballs in a temperature- and atmosphere-controlled chamber called the "humidor," and there was no hint of the radical pitching plans that the team tried last season. Weiss still has that 1995 winning feeling, and he worked with the 2007 team that had solid pitching and went to the World Series, and will be counted on to turn the Rockies into a winner sooner than later. "That's going to be one of the keys," Weiss said. "One thing we need to convince the players of is we have the greatest home-field advantage in all of baseball, and I don't think there's a close second. We've got to play on that. That's how it was. When our hitters stepped into the batter's box, we felt we were in control, and even against some of the best pitchers in the game we put up some damage. We had the momentum, and it was a matter of time before we'd get you. "That mental edge was pivotal and we have to get back to it. I realize this is a different club than '95; we've got the possibility of doing really well offensively." Weiss also understands the pitching challenges but doesn't see them stopping the Rockies from being successful. "I know it can be a rough place for a pitcher but we should have a better plan than anyone else," Weiss said. "We know we've got to be tougher and smarter to play there, bottom line. You've got to have the mentality that you're going to compete, your team is going to score runs and the bottom line is wins. The guys who pitch for us are the ones who understand that and wear it as a badge of honor." The Rockies were looking for a manager to work closely with the front office. Weiss has vowed to do that. He said much of the coaching staff is likely to be people still with the organization, and he is fine with that because he worked with all of them during his time as a special front-office assistant. Weiss, father of four boys, left the organization after 2008 to spend time with the children and his wife, Terri. He said coaching baseball and football at the youth and scholastic level was refreshing. His Regis baseball team went 20-5 last year, his first as head coach. "Obviously, the stakes are different," said Weiss, who has helped the Regis football coaching staff either on the sidelines or from the press box during games, and will continue to do so through the playoffs. "But the thing I take from being around high school kids is you get to see why we all started to play the game and the joy the game brings. "The raw emotion is really refreshing. At the same time, you get to shape them at the ground level and teach them what's important and how to play the game. Those things don't change, no matter what level."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.