By TEDDY ALLEN
Written for the LSWA
Three years before he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in amateur baseball in 2003, an unassuming Rickie Weeks, a freshman from Florida and basically unknown to his Southern University of Baton Rouge teammates, was quiet at his first practice.
Head down. Little eye contact. A sturdy but average 5-foot-10, 170 pounds.
Hardly said a word.
That doesn’t mean the quiet, unfamiliar kid far from home didn’t make some noise. He was an average-looking firecracker no one had seen lit yet. Or heard.
But then came batting practice, and the future Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer stepped into the right-handed batter’s box. A few loud line drives later, it was evident that no one would be able to keep Rickie Weeks, who’d somehow been flying below baseball’s radar, a secret any longer.
Saturday night, August 28, he’ll step into the Hall with the rest of the Class of 2021. For information about the Aug. 26-28 LSHOF Induction Celebration, and participation opportunities, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
“We knew he was going to play after he took BP for the first time; he pretty much made everybody stop because of the way the ball was coming off his bat, the sound it made, the backspin it created,” said Robert Primus, Southern’s rightfielder/DH and a junior that day in 2001.
“We had a bunch of metal signs on the fences (at Southern’s Lee-Hines Field), and if those balls didn’t go over the fence and they hit those metal signs, those were the loudest bangs you’ve ever heard,” said Primus.
A second baseman most of his career, Weeks started hitting ropes at age 4 for the Altamonte Springs Mets in a T-Ball league in his Florida hometown and didn’t stop until he’d starred for USA Baseball during two summers in college, finished his three-year Southern career with a highest-in-NCAA-history batting average (.465) and slugging percentage (.927), become the first player from an HBCU (historically black college or university) to win the Golden Spikes Award, become the second player taken in the 2003 MLB Draft, and played 14 years in the big leagues.
“From that first day on, it was truly impressive to watch him play every day,” said Primus, who Weeks still calls “my big brother” and today is principal at White Castle High. “A lot of his home runs were still rising when they left the park. You saw that and you knew somebody was going to lose a spot (in the lineup).”
Roger Cador, his college coach and a Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer, compared the strength of Weeks’ hands and wrists to those of his friend Hank Aaron, acknowledging how exaggerated that might sound—but only to anyone who’d never seen Weeks swing a bat.
“He would hit these line drives down the left-field line and they would never go foul,” Cador told The Advocate in 2017 when Weeks’ career was ending after a summer with Tampa Bay. “I think he hit them so hard, they didn’t have a chance to go foul. What a talent.”
No kidding. This guy was even voted, back in his dreadlock days of 2009, Baseball’s Sexiest Man by Cosmopolitan Magazine.
And yet, “we hang out to this day,” Primus said, “and you’d never know he was a big leaguer.”
This is the literal baseball version of a guy who talks softly and carries a big stick.
Here’s some more noise Weeks made early in his HOF career:
All-American at Southern;
Baseball America Player of the Year, Golden Spikes winner, and winner of the Dick Howser Trophy as the nation’s top player after leading Division I for the second straight year with a .479 average (and 66 RBIs) in 2003;
SWAC Player of the Year and Most Outstanding Hitter who led the Jaguars to the NCAA tournament in each of his three seasons.
His final college appearance was the Hattiesburg Regional in Pete Taylor Park. Southern Miss would end the Jags’ season in the third game for both teams in the double-elimination tournament, but when the two played in the opener, Southern won it, 5-3. Four guys on that team would play some level of pro baseball, including Weeks, who was 2-for-3 with a single, a two-run homer, and three RBIs.
“He hit one over the scoreboard and the trees behind the scoreboard, and the railroad track behind the trees, that might still be headed north,” said Mississippi Hall of Fame sportswriter Rick Cleveland. “Never seen such bat speed from a guy that size unless it was the Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn. And he was the entire package: glove, speed, arm, everything. Made a believer out of me.”
“We knew how good Rickie was and how loaded they were,” said Lane Burroughs, the Louisiana Sports Writers Association 2021 Coach of the Year at Louisiana Tech and a Southern Miss assistant in ’03. “I watched them take batting practice, and it might be the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen, to this day.
“But even more than that, I can remember how he handled himself,” Burroughs said. “The kids are all over him for autographs. I mean, they knew the best player in the college game was here; they weren’t going to let him get away, and he handled it like a champ. He really had a calm maturity about him.”
That maturity grew throughout his All-Star career. With Milwaukee (2003, 2005-14), Seattle (2015), Arizona (2016) and Tampa Bay (2017), Weeks had a .246 career batting average with 161 home runs, 474 RBIs and 132 steals. His top hitting seasons came when he hit .279 in 2006 and .274 in 2014, but he hit .269 with 29 homers and 83 RBIs in 2010, and in 2011 was the starting second baseman for the National League in the All-Star game and finished that season hitting .269 with 20 home runs and 49 RBIs.
Nobody plays 14 years in the big leagues without being an outstanding value to a club and to the game.
“My brother’s very humble,” said little brother Jemile, a Louisville Slugger All-American as a freshman star second baseman at the University of Miami and big leaguer over six seasons. “The route he took to get to the big leagues was very tough, and most guys don’t finish the way he finished.”
But even all those years in The Show can’t match the beauty and purity and love of the game Weeks and his tri-champion teammates and Cador enjoyed at Southern, “probably the best time in my life for playing baseball,” Weeks said.
It happened because a scout and friend of Cador’s was in Florida scouting another player but couldn’t take his eyes and ears off Weeks and those line drives. The first time Cador talked to Rickie’s mom, Valeria, she committed her son to Cador and Southern over the phone. When the two finally met at a summer tournament in Florida, Valeria, a Pentecostal minister, saw the stately 6-foot-5 Cador and knew she’d made the right move.
Now it was all about working hard, the least of Weeks’ worries.
Primus never had to set an alarm clock “because I knew Rick was going to bang on my door in the dorm so we could go work out,” he said, and off the pair would go in Primus’ white Honda Accord with no air conditioning. “You couldn’t match his work ethic. He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever seen in my life.
“He elevated everybody by his example,” Primus said. “But you know what? Even with all the awards, the way he came to Southern is the same way he left. I just wish people knew what a good dude he is, just a good guy.”
Cador has long called Weeks “the right guy to win the Golden Spikes at an HBCU” because “he did all the right things, and all the time.
“But if we go beyond baseball to what he’s doing now, it’s more significant,” Cador said. “Now I see him as a community leader giving back to the less fortunate kids in the Orlando area, and to me that’s as important as all the hits he got and all the great things he did at Southern.”
Through their Weeks Brothers Foundation, Rickie and Jemile offer underserved youth the chance for baseball and moral instruction, something they learned years ago when the brothers’ parents had the pair doing all sorts of community service. They would work at the food bank, at the Boys & Girls Club, or standing on street corners passing out canned food or flyers for free meals.
Weeks is still touching all the bases. He’s on schedule to earn his degree in sports management from Florida International University in December. “I always promised my family I’d get my degree,” Rickie said. He and Tiphany, married since 2014, are the parents of Rickie III—they call him Trey, age 5—and Alexi, 4.
Now he adds “Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer” to his resume.
“We talk about awards all the time, but for me personally, this comes because of all the teammates I got to play with, because of Coach Cador and Southern University because they took a chance on me,” Weeks said. “My story is that nobody really wanted me out of high school. I had to do the work, but teammates and coaches like I had, gave me a sense of a second home. I definitely owe a lot to them.”
We’ll let Tony Gwynn Jr. bat cleanup here — born in 1982 one month after Rickie, and the Brewers’ second pick in 2003 out of San Diego State. They first met after their freshmen seasons at the USA Baseball camp.
Today he’s a broadcaster for the San Diego Padres.
“It was obvious early, at least to me, that he was the truth, that he was going to go some places,” Gwynn Jr. said. “He quickly became ‘one of my brothers’ in the minors. It was fun watching him grow, not only as a player but as a man. It’s not a surprise at all seeing my guy get inducted, certainly a Hall of Fame player and a Hall of Fame man.”