April 6, 2013
DENVER — As a shortstop in purple and black, Walt Weiss learned quickly there is something different about playing baseball in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.
“I had never really been to Colorado before '94," Weiss said Saturday from a dugout perch at Coors Field.
Back then, Weiss was in his first season with the club. And he was frozen. One frigid spring afternoon, Mile High Stadium had morphed into a winter wonderland.
"It was snowing sideways. ... I was praying the ball didn't come to me. There was no way I could have made a play."
As a shortstop in his first year with the Rockies, a line drive might have taken his glove off.
As the manager in his first year with the Rockies, his approach has been hands-off.
The Rockies won, again, 6-3, against the Padres, their fourth win in five games.
Why has the skipper been received so well inside the clubhouse?
Instead of imposing advice on a roster with fresh memories of a 98-loss season, Weiss simply slid into his new office without much notice.
Broken down into a simple formula, this is Weiss’ approach to managing his club:
Let the pros be pros. They reached this level for a reason.
“I think there’s a tendency in this game to get real mechanical, whether it’s your footwork defensively or your swing when you get in the box,” Weiss said. “There’s a tendency to do that. But in the end, you’ve got to go out there and be an athlete. These guys are great athletes.
“We don’t ever want to put handcuffs on these guys and hinder their athletic ability.”
Who wouldn’t want to play for a guy who simply trusts you have the right stuff?
There should be no doubt the Rockies made their best move in years when they plucked Weiss from Regis Jesuit High and plugged him into the NL West.
The 49-year-old is a natural on the top step of a big-league dugout.
"It's real relaxed in here,” Dexter Fowler said.
"All they say is, 'Swing the bat,'" Wilin Rosario added.
The most bizarre part of this equation remains the one-year contract given to Weiss.
“That was never an issue for me,” Weiss told me in spring training.
One year? The Rockies should be so lucky to keep him for a dozen more.
“I know that his time here, as a player and as a staff member, doing the things he’s done over the years for the organization, put him in a better place to do this," Padres manager Bud Black said. "The transition for him has probably been a little cleaner than it would be if it was just high school coach to big-league manager.”
Weiss' first series in Denver has been one long congrats — from fans, from media, from the field staff that shelled out man hugs after his first home win.
But good luck trying to get Weiss to make this about him. Peyton Manning now has competition for the best aw-shucks in the city.
“It’s funny, people keep asking me about managing. I haven’t really made too much of it,” he said. “For me, it’s trying to win a game and finding a way to beat the other guy and trying to enjoy the competition. I haven’t really gotten caught up with all the firsts that come with managing.
"Maybe I'm a little weird."
In the third game, in Milwaukee, Weiss shuffled the lineup and found a winning combination while resting some of his regulars. Then he allowed some insight into his expectations.
"To win a division, to win a championship, you’ve got to use your entire roster. That’s part of the formula for us.”
There is a long way to go — 157 games and a slew of decisions that figure to test his managerial skills.
“(Former Sky Sox manager and current Rockies bench coach) Tommy Runnells has been great for me," Weiss said. "He’s great at putting together scenarios, then I pick one."
If it sounds like a choose-your-own-adventure book, it kind of is.
His first season as a Rockies shortstop was stacked with adventure, some snow-related.
Early in his first season as manager, it's clear the Rockies chose wisely.
Paul Klee is the Denver sports columnist for The Gazette. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter (@Klee_Gazette).