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Walt Weiss -
There was nothing magical about Walt Weiss’s rise to professional baseball stardom. It was all about striving with the sweat of honest toil to grab hold of a dream. But because of that exemplary dedication, hard work and hometown pride, many young Rocklanders can now dream of being the next Walt Weiss.
Weiss, a 1982 Suffern High School graduate, never forgot his roots. Although he now makes his home in Castle Rock, Colo., Weiss honed his diamond craft on the ballfields of Suffern’s youth leagues and schools. He absorbed the lessons well enough to become the most successful major league baseball player ever to come out of Rockland County.
When Weiss made his major league debut with the Oakland Athletics in 1987, he became the first native Rocklander in 35 years to wear a big-league uniform, and only the eighth overall at that time. But he didn’t just wear the uniform; he honored it with his blue-ribbon defense and timely hitting.
The 6-foot, 185-pound switch-hitting shortstop was the 1988 American League Rookie of the Year; played in four World Series, including the 1989 Series in which his A’s defeated the San Francisco Giants for the championship; and was the starting shortstop for the 1998 National League All-Star team, becoming the oldest player (35) ever to be voted a starter in his first All-Star appearance.
He played 13 years in the majors—five with Oakland, one with the fledgling Florida Marlins (he was a charter member of the franchise in 1993 and drove in the first run in team history), four with the Colorado Rockies and three with the Atlanta Braves—and was the starting shortstop each year. His teams reached the playoffs eight of those 13 years, including World Series appearances in 1988, 1989 and 1990 with Oakland and 1999 with Atlanta.
Weiss wound up with a career batting average of .258 and a nifty .971 fielding percentage. His best year offensively was 1996 with Colorado, when he batted .282 with 8 home runs, 48 RBI, 146 hits and 89 runs. His most durable year was 1993 with Florida, when he played in 158 of the Marlins’ 162 games.
Weiss showed glimpses of his future greatness while honing his skills at Suffern High School. A talented all-round athlete, he was twice an All-Rockland shortstop and earned Rockland Player-of-the-Year accolades in 1982, batting a robust .495. He also played two years of varsity football for the Mounties, as a wide receiver his junior year and quarterback his senior year, and ran indoor track his senior year, contributing to the Mounties’ county champion 4x400-meter relay.
After being chosen by the Baltimore Orioles in the 10th round of the 1982 major league draft, Weiss opted instead for more seasoning in college ball. He was awarded a baseball scholarship to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he refined his left-handed batting stroke (having been a natural righty) and matured physically and mentally. Weiss was the first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference shortstop all three years he attended the school.
After his junior year, in 1985, Weiss again entered the major league draft and this time Oakland chose him in the first round as the 11th player selected overall. He methodically ascended the minor-league ladder, from the Rookie League in Pocatello, Idaho, to Class A Madison (Wis.), to Class AA Huntsville (Ala.). He made his major-league debut on July 12, 1987, was sent down to Class AAA Tacoma (Wash.) after a very brief stint, then was recalled by the A’s in September and got into a total of 16 games before establishing himself fully in 1988.
Weiss overcame serious knee and ankle injuries early in his career to perform with distinction, while taking leadership roles later in his career. He served several times as teammate-elected player representative to the Major League Baseball Players’ Association.
Weiss rarely missed an opportunity to keep in touch with his Rockland roots. During the 1988 World Series, for example, he wrote a game-by-game diary for readers of The Journal-News as the Athletics battled the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also has been a major benefactor to the Suffern High School athletic program.
Weiss’s home community has reciprocated that friendship. In 1989 hundreds of fans lined Lafayette Avenue in Suffern to pay homage to their native son with a parade and ceremonies during Walt Weiss Day. In 1999, Suffern High School renamed its baseball diamond Walt Weiss Field in recognition of his professional success and the support he has provided the program. The school also retired his uniform number, 22.
Weiss and his wife, Terri, run the SIDS Foundation in Denver, in memory of Walt’s brother, who died of sudden infant death syndrome. He has also built four Little League fields for Denver’s inner-city children.
The Weisses have three children—Blake, 14; Brody, 7; and Bo, 5—and a fourth boy is due in June.