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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: April 13, 2024 8:12 am PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

The lessons of the game must be passed on to future generations.

If not, the true meaning of baseball will be lost forever.

This should be done in the minor leagues and at the major league level but times have changed and not for the better. But don’t lose hope. As long as there are still passionate, experienced teachers out there like Mark Weidemaier, baseball will live forever.

Weidemaier has more than 40 years experience in the game and some of the managers he has worked for include Joe Torre, Kirk Gibson, Jim Riggleman and Matt Williams. He also worked for Joe Maddon before Joe made it to the majors.

Weidemaier has worked at every level from college to minors to majors, and internationally as well. His energy level is off the charts. His titles over the years include bench coach, major league defensive coordinator, advance scout, special assistant, field coordinator and he has worked for a number of teams, including the Dodgers, Reds, Diamondbacks, Nationals, Yankees, Angels, and Cleveland. He knows player development inside and out.

Unfortunately, MLB teams have decided all that experience would not be useful to any team these days so Weidemaier took it in another direction. Good for him.

MLB’s loss is the Northwoods League’s gain, specifically the Bismarck Larks.

Weidemaier will be right at home as a skipper, teaching the game of baseball to college players over the summer in a grind-it-out 72-game schedule. His official title is director of player operations and field manager.

Make no mistake, Weidemaier will teach but what I love most is that Weidemaier is going to emphasize the importance of winning. Winning matters and he is making that clear in his Mission Statement to his players as he fills out the roster, consider it a form of Northwoods Law on the proper way to prepare and play baseball.

Baseball is fun. Winning is fun.

For the most part, the art of winning is being lost in baseball. There are a few major league teams who still put wins over numbers, teams like Bruce Bochy and the World Champion Texas Rangers, but much of MLB has lost its way.

Spend any time with Weidemaier and you will be refreshed and raring to go about baseball. Buckle up and enjoy The Story.

“I love the game,’’ Weidemaier told BallNine “and I will do my thing with these college kids. It’s going to be fun. When you have done it as long as I have, you don’t want to shut it down. I love going to the ballpark.

“Alan Trammell and I are good friends,’’ he said. “We worked together with the Diamondbacks, and Tram said it best, man: ‘Whether it is old school or new school, it’s the right school.’ That’s the bottom line. I think there will be some open minds with me coming in with my background. I think I will have the chance to really do some instruction and not have somebody look over my shoulder 24/7. I think it is going to be refreshing to work with some of these young guys and really give them what I feel is the right way to play the game.

“All you hear now is the word ‘prospect, prospect, prospect.’ Well, everybody wants to be a major league player but nobody wants to be a baseball player.’’

That’s gold.

“When you check into the Hotel Birmingham and they tell you to go get a fifth of whiskey, sit down and shut up and you’ll learn something. I was lucky to start at the grassroots level and find talent. Good God what an education.’’

“You have to be a baseball player first,’’ Weidemaier said. “Respect the game, learn the game, practice the game. If you do concentrated practice you become good at it. All the scouting reports we have that talk about instinct, it’s a bad term for baseball. I mean my Labrador Retrievers have instincts, they’re born with that. You are not born knowing how to run the bases, somebody has to teach you, right?

“Now some people, obviously have better aptitude, they have better powers of observation, but baseball, you learn to play the game of baseball. I think that’s what’s missing. If you look at the big leagues, the fundamental play is brutal.’’

Yes it is and it is only getting worse as metrics replace teaching.

Using his scouting and baseball connections, Weidemaier is looking far and wide for collegiate talent and already has signed up four Canadian players and one player from France, Mathis Meurant, a shortstop for Chip Hale at the University of Arizona.

This job entails a little bit of everything and Weidemaier is leaning on his experience and his many-layered connections in the game.

“You have to learn the game and you have to respect the game,’’ Weidemaier said. “I was really lucky to break in when I did and then when I was scouting and I had four states to cover and Puerto Rico. Think of this, back when I was scouting and I had the Florida Instructional League, too, every team, I had four major league teams covering in the summer and I had the whole Southern League to cover and I had the Dominican Winter League to cover in the winter. And that all created a great frame of reference. I saw Alex Rodriguez when he was a junior at Westminster Academy.’’

The older scouts were his teachers.

“I have to tell you, those old guys like Squeaky Parker, Julian Mock and Joe Mason, they called him Dragnet, I’m 69 years old and those guys, those scouts, are still larger than life to me and I coached in the big leagues. That’s how much I learned from those guys.

“When you check into the Hotel Birmingham and they tell you to go get a fifth of whiskey, sit down and shut up and you’ll learn something. I was lucky to start at the grassroots level and find talent. Good God what an education.’’

And Weidemaier learned.

Washington Nationals defensive coordinator and advance coach Mark Weidemaier hits infield practice before the Washington Nationals play the Atlanta Braves in grapefruit league baseball in Orlando FL, March 4, 2014. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

His work history is baseball history, including running Dominican academies for the Dodgers and Yankees. “I was in the Dominican for 28 winters, and guys would tell me, ‘Weed, you are the only advance scout that covers winter ball.’ I loved that stuff and I also would put the uniform on and work with the infielders. That’s how you learn what you learn.’’

Weidemaier then laughed and said, “And now that I know more than I have ever known, nobody will give me a job. And I was an advance guy in the big leagues for 20-plus years, a coach in the big leagues.’’

Nobody in the major leagues seemed interested in all that institutional, real life baseball knowledge, which says a lot about the big leagues, but the Bismarck Larks and owner John Bollinger and Nate Maddox, VP of operations, came calling.

Weidemaier will take the challenge head on. Mark Weidemaier is 69 but he possesses that eternal youth that baseball blesses on some of its participants. To hear him speak and watch him in action you would think he is decades younger.

The game, if you accept it in your heart, keeps you young.

“I still throw BP, I hit fungos and I still want to work,’’ Weidemaier said.

Did I mention Weidemaier also speaks Spanish and Korean. Combine all that with his scouting knowledge, college coaching, major league coaching, International experience and you get the gift of baseball for these college players heading to play for the Larks.

Weidemaier’s catchers are going to learn to call games, read swings, as will the pitchers. There will be no wrist watch baseball with pitch selection commands coming from the dugout. Pitchers will work with the catcher and use baseball acumen to figure this all out and how to attack the hitter.

Weidemaier wants ballplayers not robots.

“I’ve told my catchers, fellas, I hope you have learned how to call a game because I am going to have you call the pitches,’’ Weidemaier said. “You will learn how to read swings. You will learn how to work your staff. There ain’t nothing coming from a wrist watch. It’s absurd when you think about it.’’

Throwing every pitch with conviction is the goal. “If you don’t have conviction about throwing that pitch, and that doesn’t come from somebody telling you what to do, that comes from you,’’ Weidemaier explained. “A catcher throws down a finger, guys don’t like it, shake it off and throw what you want to throw.’’

Imagine that, creating thinking ballplayers.

Mark Weidemaier at home in North Carolina with one of his dogs. (Image via Bismarck Larks Facebook)

“I think baseball in this country is the most over-coached, least-taught sport we got going,’’ Weidemaier said. “Everybody has got a blog on how to hit, are you kidding me?’’

Now a quick word about the Northwoods League and their 26 teams. This is a really good league that has been around for 30 years. The Cape Cod League gets all the play as being “the summer place’’ for the college game, but don’t sell this league short, there are more games, more of a grind, emulating what pro ball is about, and there is so much talent that has come out of this league, including players like Mets slugger Pete Alonso. Terry Collins managed in this league before becoming the Mets manager. It’s a first class league. The Northwoods League partners with Rawlings so the uniforms and equipment are top notch, too.

Technology and information are tools to be used to help teach winning and Weidemaier will use them all with the goal of making that winning ballplayer.

Weidemaier and his wife, Tracy, a former Marine, and an accomplished author, live in North Carolina on 11 acres out in the country with their four dogs, “And we love it,’’ Weidemaier said. His stepdaughter Morgan is married to former football star Brian Bosworth. “They met on a scene in The Longest Yard, she had a small part in the movie and the rest is history,’’ he said.

“My wife Tracy is wonderful,’’ Weidemaier added. “I had the baseball life. I met her at a little gym in Tierra Verde, near St. Pete Beach where I used to live. We got married when I was 54. She was teaching journalism and creative writing and ran the school newspaper at Eckerd College. She’s written a number of books, including It’s My Country Too.’’

Tracy Crow wrote that book with co-author Jerri Bell. She’s a literary agent, too, mostly for military writers, she also runs a foundation, called MilSpeak Foundation an organization dedicated toward supporting the creative endeavors of military service members, veterans and their families. In addition, she wrote an award-winning memoir: Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine and is a podcaster.

This is one hard-working family.

“If I didn’t see three games a day in Florida when I was scouting I felt like I was cheating my boss,’’ Weidemaier said of his scouting days. “You do it for the love of the game, that’s a cliché, but it’s true.

“I think the Northwoods League is the best college summer league going,’’ Weidemaier said. “Everybody talks about Cape Cod but we play 72 games they play 44 (regular season games). Our schedule is much like short season ‘A’ ball used to look like, it’s a grind, and I think these young guys will really find out how badly they want to do it, but I think it’s the best league.’’

The Northwoods League also draws fans in a big way. If you are drawing fans you have to have a good product, In addition, the Northwoods League this year is starting a new college summer softball league. Smart move. They got it going in the Northwoods League.

“I’ve talked to a lot of guys who have played in this league and they all say, ‘It was the best summer I ever spent,’ ‘’ Weidemaier noted.

“I’m all in. I think it’s going to be fun. I’m going to develop players but I’m going up there to win,’’ Weidemaier said. “We are going to take early work, extra work, they are going to get developed. We are going to go after this thing like it’s a pro team. I’m not your coach, my name is Skip. They are going to call me Skip or Skipper. They all want to be pros, that’s what they say, so I’m going to treat them like pros.’’

Mark Weidemaier is looking big picture.

“This is the kind of thing we need more in our game,’’ he said. “The grass roots are what it is all about. Somebody has got to teach them the right way to play. They have to understand the right way to play and not all this gimmicky stuff that has nothing to do with playing baseball.

“One of the big things to me in any business, whether its baseball or sports in general, you’ve got to have energized enthusiasm,’’ Weidemaier said. “You have to have high energy people. When you have that kind of energy surrounding whatever is taking place it tends to create a sharper focus and attention to detail and when baseball players do that, it really elevates their baseline ability and performance. When that becomes a team concept, you really have something pretty special.’’

Yes you do, at any level. Mark it down.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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