Last year’s starting N.L. All-Star second baseman Rickie Weeks, who missed a chunk of last year with an ankle injury and was not nearly at full strength when he returned to help the Brewers for the pennant stretch, may need to take a bigger leadership role following the departure of Prince Fielder to free agency.
After missing nearly a season’s worth of games to injury over the past three years (despite playing in 160 contests in 2010), the 29-year-old Weeks will likely need to stay healthy and productive if Milwaukee is to repeat as N.L. Central champion.
Weeks took a few moments to reflect on the loss of Fielder, the most dominant piece of the pennant run, the return of Ryan Braun, and his relationship with both fellow stars in an interview with Franklin Sports, makers of batting gloves worn by many of game’s top players, including Weeks.
Q: What has been your early pre-season routine?
Rickie Weeks: Right now, coming into spring training, it’s a lot harder to get into baseball shape. Whatever you do in the off-season does not compare to what you do in the field right now. Trying to take as many swings as possible, till I get my swing back.
Q: Describe the feeling of being selected to your first All-Star Game, starting and leading off for the NL team.
RW: It was great. The whole build up about the whole situation going on, and just having a chance to start. That’s a compliment in itself. I’m very grateful and very ecstatic about it. Just telling my family, that was the biggest thing for me just telling my family that I finally made the All-star team. That’s what you work for, and the hard work paid off.
Q: What are your feelings about Prince Fielder having signed with Detroit and not being here, is it strange?
RW: Well you know, he’s a great friend of mine obviously, I’m the Godfather to his kids. So this is one of those things where you have that special bond, you know you grew up in the minor leagues playing together. Just seeing somebody walk away, which I’m still very happy for him, he worked hard to provide for his family. I’m happy for that, but to see him go was kind of hard but at the same time everyone has to move on. We’re all professionals, so it’s good.
Q: Describe the bond between you two and the camaraderie that you guys have had over the years.
RW: It was great. A whole bunch of laughs, we liked to go back and forth a lot. It’s kind of hard to replace that. At the same time, like I already said, everybody gets older and things change in professional sports, and people have to move on. I think I have. We’ll still connect of course, but at the same time we’re grown up and we’ve got to move on.
RW: It was a great press conference. Ryan Braun handled himself very well. Just to see him go through this whole situation, it was kind of hard on him and then to come in here today and actually hear the true reports, it’s kind of tough. I kind of feel for him, just getting the whole thing handled finally. I’m there for him. The team’s there for him. I’m just glad he has a chance to go out there and play ball and help his team win.
Q: And he’s the first baseball player to ever overturn a suspension. What are your thoughts on that?
RW: Well, you know hands down that something was flawed in there to have that happen. We all know that he’s innocent, and that he proved he didn’t do anything wrong. He goes about playing baseball the right way. He’s obviously a great player, we need him, and we’re just happy to have him back.
Q: And you’ve played with him since the beginning, 2005, when you first got into the majors with him and I saw you guys hugging. You must have a bond as well. Describe the relationship between you and Braun.
RW: The biggest thing is that when you spend that much time with somebody you develop special bonds. A lot of time people don’t realize that you spend half a year seeing that person every day, and when you’ve been with a guy for five or six years you grow another special bond where you keep in tough all season. You talk to them, ask how their family is doing, and just having him here is always good.
Q: Do you think that your return, and Ryan’s return, plus the addition of Aramis Ramirez and the insertion of Mat Gamel into the lineup will be enough to make up for the loss of offense and leadership when Prince Fielder departed?
RW: Wins. That’s what we want, but at the same time we know that’s going to be hard. Guys are gunning for us, teams are gunning for us, so it’s up to us to carry that same thing we brought here last spring training. Hustle hard, go out there and have fun, and see what we can do.
Q: Obviously, a lot of kids look up to you. As a player what would you say to them as far as advice?
RW: The biggest thing for me, I think is that a lot of the time hard work pays off. It’s always good to reinforce the idea that hard work does pay off. Obviously I’m living my dream, and guys in the big leagues are all living their dreams, so it’s always good to reinforce that hard work got us here.
Q: Community service is an important part of your life and baseball career, and you were a Roberto Clemente Award nominee. Tell us about “Rickie’s Rookies” and some of the other charity work you do.
RW: Well the reason why I started it was just because I like to reach out to kids. A lot of times there are kids, especially in the inner cities, that just don’t have what I have right now. They don’t get a chance to see what it’s like on the other side. I try to provide them with tickets throughout the year to the baseball games, and try to provide them with transportation in my off-season so I can see them do what they have to do to work hard in their school work. It’s always good to have that foundation for them to try and propel them to a better life.
Q: Franklin is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the batting glove, and you wear the NEO Classic. Tell me when you were first exposed to Franklin.
RW: The first time I was exposed to them, was probably in college. I didn’t have the Franklin gloves on, but I saw them on TV. I used to see Mark McGuire hitting balls out of the park at the time with the classic “Golf Club” gloves. I was just fascinated by it. It kind of popped, but it was just something that I liked. As soon as I got to the big leagues, I think that was the first call I made, to try and get some Franklin baseball gloves. That was the first thing I wanted, all white batting gloves. I wasn’t that big at the time, so I couldn’t get what I wanted but I am able to get that now. So that’s when I was first exposed to it.