From coach to colleague, Gator baseball's Brad Weitzel works alongside his former players
Florida baseball skipper Kevin O'Sullivan once referred to his assistant coach, Brad Weitzel, as coach. Their relationship dates back to 1987, when Weitzel was a coach with the Jupiter American Legion team.
“To one day coach a kid and then eventually he hires you at a big situation like this at the University of Florida, that says a lot right there," Weitzel said. "Every day I try to help him, and he helps me and it’s a trade off, and I’ve always felt like the big brother or uncle through that whole situation.”
O'Sullivan isn't the only Gator coach who once played for Weitzel. From 1986 to 1989, Weitzel coached Craig Bell at Palm Beach Community College and the University of North Florida.
While Weitzel enjoys coaching alongside his former players now, at first, he wasn't completely sold on the idea of coaching at the University of Florida.
The hesitation to return to coaching was due to his role as the Florida Area Scout for the Minnesota Twins. He occupied the position for 16 years before joining UF's baseball staff.
“(The Twins) were gonna interview five people and I wasn’t one of them," said Weitzel. "I was like the sixth guy and I had to beg for an interview. I went to the Winter Meetings and had an interview and they hired me. I did it for 16 years and signed a lot of big leaguers for the Twins, and since I left the Twins did not sign a big leaguer out of the state of Florida in 11 years.”
As a scout, Weitzel signed 16 big leaguers, drafted 5 and coached 36 at various levels.
He considers one of his best signings to be A.J. Pierzynski, whose Major League career spanned from 1998 to 2016 and consisted of playing for seven different teams.
"It’s amazing how you sing him as a 17-year-old kid, and now he played in the big leagues almost 20 years and he’s retired. That’s a long time. It makes me feel old, but I’m really proud of that," Weitzel said about the two-time American League All-Star. "Doug Mientkiewicz, he’s retired now, that’s another one of the kids I’ve singed, and Denard Span is still playing. Those are my three main guys. All the other kids I’m very proud of. I keep in contact with them a lot. I hear from them a lot. They’re very important to me too.”
Weitzel clearly has an eye for talent, and he'll tell you that if he were scouting his college-age self, there wouldn't have been much to get excited about.
“My legacy playing in the SEC at the University of Georgia... I am the worst shortstop to ever play in the SEC," Weitzel said with a smile. "That being said, if you play in the SEC you’re pretty good, so that’s my legacy.”
Before playing shortstop for the Bulldogs from 1981-82, Weitzel played for Palm Beach Community College from 1979-80.
Four years later, he picked up his first coaching job at Palm Beach Community College, which lasted until 1987. He then coached for the University of North Florida (1987-91), the New York-Penn League's Erie Sailors (1990), the Gulf Coast League Twins (1996 and 2000) and in Minnesota's Instructional League (1996-2001).
Weitzel's evolution as a coach has led to a greater focus on the mental side of the game.
“It’s helped me as a coach. It’s helped the players because I was just a total physical coach before," Weitzel said about the mental approach. "Work them as hard as you can to make them better with no mental approach at all, and I think it’s worked out way better with the mental side. I’ve gotta help them with the mental side and I think the end product is better now because there’s mental involved.
“The older coaches and older people I’ve been around who have been around long enough to know what they’re doing said, 'As you get older you have to get more mentally involve with the players. That’s the part that I realized I was kind of missing on as a coach. I’ve backed off on a lot of things with the hard work, and we’re working smarter now instead of harder.
"We’re still working hard, but it’s smarter.”
Hard work has been a point of emphasis throughout Weitzel's life, and while the work he's put into baseball has taken up most of his time, the other area of his life that he desires to work hard for is his family.
“I feel sorry for them because I have a one-track mind. It’s just sports. "My wife, when we first got married, she said about three years later ‘I think you love baseball more than you love me,' and I said 'Well, you’re probably right. But, I do love you more than basketball and football'." Weitzel joked. "She’s never really tried to compete with my love for sports, my love for competition and that’s probably why we’ve got 35 years of marriage. She’s an unbelievable person, unbelievable mother. My kids were raised in a sports atmosphere. It kinda tickles me they’re both in sports now."
His son, Lucas, currently works as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Helena Brewers, a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. His daughter, Layne, is a Sports Information Coordinator at Tennessee Tech.