Former Illini pitcher Brett Weber was a member of the coaching staff for the world champion New York Yankees this season.
Nov. 16, 2009
By Ben Taylor, Illinois Sports Information
In January of this year, former Illini Brett Weber had been going about his daily life, working for SmithBarney in downtown Chicago, when he received a call that opened a door for him to return to baseball, the sport he loved.
The call came from Brian Cashman, general manager of the New York Yankees, who told Weber the team had an opening and that he was on the short list of candidates if he was interested. An All-American pitcher in 1998, Weber was a 14th-round draft pick by the Yankees and went 4-1 with a 3.04 ERA for short-season Oneonta as a starter. He was converted to a closer in 1999 and was one of the best in the South Atlantic League, racking up 23 saves in 52 appearances, going 8-4 with a 1.97 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 73 innings. While two surgeries derailed his career, which ended in 2004, Weber still knew a handful of people in the New York system.
"I told him I was absolutely interested," Weber said. "As the days went on, I hadn't heard anything. I received a call later and he said that after talking to quite a few people in the organization, they decided they wanted to bring me on board if that was something I was interested in. So within a week, I was on a plane and down in spring training."
Since Cashman's second call came the week before pitchers and catchers reported, Weber basically dropped everything and moved to Tampa for spring training. He began working a dual role as a member of the coaching and baseball operations staffs, meaning that during the season he would do things such as throwing batting practice and keeping pitching charts during games, and now, during the offseason, he will help plan for the 2010 campaign.
"It's a mixture of different things, but the fact that it combines on-the-field work, which I really enjoy, and the operations part of it is good because I was able to grasp a lot of different concepts," Weber said. "I'm able to combine both of those, so it has been a lot of fun."
As Weber began working closely with the Yankees' players, his respect for them as craftsmen grew. Through his sessions of throwing for hitters who wanted extra work in the batting cages or catching throws from infielders as they were taking ground balls, Weber was drawn back into the familiar routine of professional baseball.
"To get to know them on a personal level and see their work ethic and how seriously they take the game of baseball was remarkable," Weber said. "I got to know who they really are, which is something I really enjoyed because we obviously have a lot of personalities on our team."
That familiarity also came from Weber's in-game duties when he would keep charts on each pitcher for both the Yankees and their opponent. He would compile data on game situation, pitch type, location and velocity, and then give those charts to New York's pitching and hitting coaches after the game. The next day, he wrote postgame reports on each opposing pitcher that went to Cashman for scouting purposes before heading down to the locker room to see if any players wanted him to help them with their early work.
The season didn't start in a very enjoyable manner for the Yankees, as they opened with a 13-15 record through May 7. The team turned a page on May 8, though, as third baseman Alex Rodriguez returned from the disabled list that day and hit a home run to propel New York to a 4-0 win over Baltimore.
"I just remember thinking that was a turning point in our season because at the time we were struggling and from then on, we played very well," Weber said. "I remember thinking, `Now we're ready to roll.'"
And roll they did, going 21-8 over the next month, including a nine-game winning streak from May 13-21 in one of its most rigorous stretches of the season with nine games in as many days. The team scuffled for the next month, going 14-15, before going on a seven-game winning streak and taking 13 of their last 18 games before the All-Star Break to hold a 51-37 mark at approximately the midway point of the season.
The Yanks really took off in July and August, going 32-11 after the break to pull out to a six-and-a-half game lead on the Boston Red Sox in the American League Eastern Division. New York cruised to the finish, winning 20 of its last 31 games to notch a final regular-season record of 103-59.
They swept the Minnesota Twins in the American League Divisional Series and won the first two games of the American League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim before the Angels won two of the next three to cut New York's lead to 3-2. Starting pitcher Andy Pettitte shut the door on the Angels, though, with 6 1/3 strong innings of work as the Yankees used a 5-2 win to advance to the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
"Once we got to the World Series, I can honestly say our team was a lot more relaxed - even a lot more relaxed than the division series and the ALCS," Weber said. "Once we got there, everybody was like `We're here, now let's play baseball.'"
After being shut down by Phillies' ace Cliff Lee in Game 1, Yankee starter A.J. Burnett lifted New York to a 3-1 in Game 2 and the offense exploded for 15 runs in the next two wins, putting the Yankees up 3-1 in the series. Lee got another win in an 8-6 Phillies' victory in Game 5, but six RBIs by World Series MVP Hideki Matsui and a stellar 3 1/3 innings of work by the New York bullpen in Game 6 brought the club its 27th world championship.
"I can honestly say that in Game 6, when we got that last out, it was such a sense of relief and a euphoric feeling to run on that field and celebrate with our team," Weber said. "I was so happy for the guys who hadn't won a world series like A-Rod and (first baseman Mark) Teixiera and our manager, Joe Girardi.
"It was funny to see how guys like (shortstop Derek) Jeter, (closer) Mariano (Rivera) and (catcher Jorge) Posada were happy but the guys who were the most fun to watch were the guys who had won it for the first time like A-Rod. It was like a big relief off his chest."
Weber also got to experience the celebratory parade two days later on Nov. 6.
"Riding on the float during the parade and seeing how much the Yankees mean to the people of New York was kind of surreal," he said. "I was the guy with the video camera trying to take it all in."
And much like he did in his old position with SmithBarney, Weber will simply go to work tomorrow and see what comes next. The new entry on his résumé that says "helped the New York Yankees to a 2009 World Series title" will surely open a few more doors, though.
"Now I'm just going to ride it out," Weber said. "I'm in arguably the best organization in the history of sports and these are the people and the organization I want to be with right now. I just want to see where this roller coaster takes me - it's already taken me places that a year ago I had no idea I would go."