Weeks brothers facing off in Arizona
PHOENIX — It’s a scene that plays out hundreds of times over the course of a 162-game Major League Baseball season: a runner takes a big lead off first base, dances a little bit and once the pitcher takes notice, tries to dart back to first ahead of the throw, only to be caught between two fielders.
Such a scene played out in the first inning of the Milwaukee Brewers’ March 6 Cactus League game against Oakland at Maryvale Baseball Park. Leading off the first inning with a walk against the Athletics’ Tommy Milone, Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks, looking to pick up his first stolen base of the exhibition season, found himself caught in a rundown.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about the particular play, even when the Oakland second baseman held the ball just long enough to make a diving tag as Weeks tried to return to first base.
Of course, it’s not every day that one player gets picked off first base by his very own brother.
“I think I was close enough to take a shot at running him back,” said Jemile Weeks, who admitted he may have put just a tiny bit of extra effort on the tag. “I don’t think I had to fall on top of him, but you have to do what you have to do.
“He was acting like he was frustrated, but he was all right. He just looked at me kinda funny and gave me a little smirk.”
There were no hard feelings, of course. It’s baseball and the two brothers, separated in age by 4 1/2 years, have been going at each other for years
“We were always very close, very competitive,” said Rickie, 29. “Being older, I was always winning.”
The bond was never more evident than last year when Rickie, voted a starter on the National League All-Star team, asked Jemile to be his pitcher in the Home Run Derby.
“It’s good, it’s family,” Rickie said. “We take pride in being supportive of each other. It’s great to have a sibling you care about in the big leagues right now.”
Though they both bat leadoff and play second base for their teams, the brothers took dissimilar paths to the big leagues.
Rickie was the Brewers’ first-round choice (2nd overall) in the 2002 MLB draft after a standout collegiate career at Southern University. As a sophomore, he won the NCAA Division I batting crown after hitting .495 with 20 home runs. He followed that up by hitting .479 — again the best mark in Division I — with 16 home runs as a junior and was named College Player of the Year by Baseball America and a Golden Spikes Award winner.
That success didn’t immediately carry over into his professional career. Rickie had no problem hitting in the minors, posting a .284 average with 21 home runs, 110 RBI, 57 doubles and 16 triples in 209 games over the course of four seasons. With a definite need at the major league level, Rickie was fast-tracked and became the full-time starting second baseman midway through the 2005 season.
Jemile, 25, was selected by the Brewers in the eighth round of the 2005 draft but passed up the chance to play professional ball and went to the University of Miami. His time with the Hurricanes was enough to raise his stock to the point where Oakland used the 12th overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Just 19 games into his professional career, Jemile suffered a torn hip flexor that left him sidelined the rest of the year. He opened the 2009 season with the Atheltics’ high-A squad in Stockton, where he hit .278 in 50 games with seven home runs and 31 RBI.
Those numbers earned him a promotion to Class AA Midland, where his average plummeted to .239 with two home runs and 13 RBI. He spent most of the 2010 season at Midland and showed improvement, hitting .267 with 33 RBI and 11 stolen bases, and opened 2011 at Class AAA Sacramento.
There, he hit .321 in 45 games and earned his first big-league call up, making his MLB debut on June 7. He made an instant impression, earning American League Rookie of the Month honors after hitting .309 with seven doubles, three triples, six RBI and six stolen bases.
When Jemile got the call to the majors, one of his first calls was to Rickie.
“I told him not to change anything,” Rickie said. “Just keep doing what got you there.”
Jemile finished the year with a .303 average in 97 games with 36 RBI, 21 walks and 22 stolen bases (in 33 attempts).
While both players can hit the ball, they have vastly different styles. Rickie, far from the prototypical leadoff hitter, is regarded as a power hitter and has 109 home runs and 304 RBI in his career.
Jemile is much less of a home run threat, with just 16 in 873 minor league at-bats.
“He’s a little smaller, he’s a speedy guy,” Rickie said of his brother. “The older I’ve gotten, I’ve become more of a power hitter. I think we’re two totally different players now. When I came up, I was similar to him.”
They stay in regular contact, chatting or trading text messages a few times a week. They talk about baseball, they talk about life and they talk about nothing at all — just like any brothers would do.
“We just kind of motivate each other, keep each other’s heads up,” Jemile said. “It’s about helping each other get better every day.”
Playing on different teams in opposite leagues means their paths don’t cross often during the course of the season. So is there a small desire to someday play in the same league or even on the same team?
“If things could work out that way, that would be a plus,” Jemile said. “But at the same time, we both had dreams and aspirations to play MLB, so we’re happy wherever we’re at.”
In the meantime, they’ll keep pulling for each other — wherever they are.
“To see any family member be successful, whether it was me or him, when he made it, it felt good for me to see him out there,” Jemile said. “Now that I’m there, I’m sure it’s a reverse feeling.”
Unless, of course, they’re on the same field.