history of the Colorado Rockies. His ascent from high school coach to skipper of a
major league franchise is quite shocking, even to a sports nation that has built up a
strong immunity to surprises, thanks to all the scandals that have reared their ugly heads
over the past five years. But to everyone who was a teammate of Weiss at UNC, including
myself, the new position for Weiss is close to mind-boggling.
There's no question Weiss has a tremendous baseball IQ, his work ethic at UNC was
legendary, and he was respected by everyone who played with and against him in the ACC.
The same things were said about Weiss during a 12-year career in the big leagues that
saw him win a Rookie of the Year award and become a World Series champion.You'd
have to search far and wide to find anyone to say a bad thing about Weiss. He is just a
solid, solid guy. But when he was working his craft in Chapel Hill, there was nobody,
and I mean nobody, who ever thought Weiss would be a manager in the big leagues
some day. Nobody.
I thought Michael Jordan would have a better chance of becoming a basketball executive
that knew what he was doing than Weiss did of becoming a manager, especially without any experience at the professional or collegiate level. I was clearly wrong. I'm still shocked
as I type this article.
When Weiss was at UNC, his life was pretty much baseball, blue jean jackets, and Bruce
Springsteen. He and the other half of the brilliant double-play combo at UNC, Mike Jedziniak,
worshipped Springsteen and knew every word to every song that the Boss had ever played.
He probably still does. That was his hobby, but baseball was Weiss' passion. He was such
a great shortstop, he made everything seem so routine. He was so smooth that he rarely made a mistake. He was so quiet, you sometimes didn't even know he was there.
Everybody on the UNC baseball team had a nickname. Everyone. Weiss became known
as "The Peanut Man". His head was so small it looked like a peanut and the name fit--and
stuck. The plastic adjustable strap on the baseball hat wasn't enough to keep Weiss' lid on,
so he had to tape it to make it tighter.
Weiss was tagged with a great nickname and also gifted with a powerful arm that could
pump out 93-mile an hour fastballs and it led to a few of the most memorable moments in
UNC history. Our coach, Mike Roberts, was Bobby Valentine with a southern twang. Like
Valentine, he always wanted people to believe he was the smartest man in the game.
During Weiss' sophomore year, he tried to turn Weiss into a shutdown closer. And he tried
to do it without any practice or preparation.
In the final week of the 1984 season, Roberts summoned Weiss in from shortstop to pitch
the 9th inning against Virginia Commonwealth. Weiss drilled the first and only batter
he faced in the ear hole with a 93-year mile an hour fastball. It was the first time
I saw the helmet of a batter actually pop off. It was frightening. We all thought
the guy was dead. We also thought it would be the last time we'd ever see Weiss on the
mound again. We were wrong.
A week later, during the ACC tournament at Durham Athletic Park which was later made
famous by "Bull Durham", we were playing North Carolina State, a longtime fierce rival
with loyal, but vicious fans. In front of nearly 8,000 people, we built a five-run lead
on the Wolfpack heading into the later innings. Instead of going with an established
reliever, and there were many talented ones on the UNC staff, Roberts brought in Weiss
to help close the game out. Seriously, he really did. Weiss was so amped up, he was hitting
95-miles hour on the radar gun. Trouble was, he had the accuracy of Nuke LaLoosh.
Weiss couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, but he did nearly hit the mascot, which
would've resulted in an instant death.
With every ball and subsequent walk, the decibel level generated by the Wolfpack fans,
rose so high, it felt like the roof of the stands was about to blow off. It was a surreal scene
and Roberts did nothing to end it quickly. The five-run lead vanished as Weiss continued
to walk the entire free world. Dominant relievers sat in bullpen in utter astonishment until
Roberts finally went out to save Weiss, a fan from NC State screamed, "Hey Roberts,
who you going to bring in next, BJ Surhoff?" Weiss went back to shortstop and his
pitching career was over. Weiss did a lot of great things at UNC, but that moment is the
one that a lot of Tar Heels remember the most.
Walt Weiss is a great man. If he fails as a manager, it won't be because of a lack of preparation
or hard work. The man is dedicated to his profession and I guarantee that he will be the first
one to the park and the last one to leave. I'm also pretty confident in saying that the Rockies
new manager will be, pound-for-pound, the strongest man in the clubhouse. He's a fitness
freak who loves to be challenged.
Managing the Rockies will be a tough challenge for Weiss and the critics are sure to pounce
on his inexperience as soon as one of his moves backfire. But Colorado has a manager who
will lead by example, and one thing is certain, he will have the respect of his players and
he will always have their backs. Weiss is the anti-Bobby Valentine and a man who every
Tar Heel is rooting for.
Good luck, Peanut Man.