O's catch a natural talent

Top draft pick Wieters is quiet but potent force

August 19, 2007|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,Sun reporter

The freshman started at first base against powerhouse Miami. Four innings into the game, heat exhaustion sapped Georgia Tech's catcher, so the kid moved behind the plate. In the top of the ninth, he hit a two-run homer to put the Yellow Jackets ahead. And finally, holding that one-run advantage, he stripped his gear, moved to the mound and earned the save.

Faced with this preposterous display of all-around excellence, Matt Wieters' teammates handed him a nickname: God.

He could probably walk on water, too, they figured.

"I guess you could say they respected him," said longtime Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall.

Stories about Wieters, the No. 5 overall pick who signed for the largest bonus in Orioles history Wednesday, tend to follow the same lines. Teammates, coaches and family members say he's a quiet, dignified, analytical young man who knew he wanted to play baseball for a living and did what he had to at every juncture to reach that goal.

When the South Carolina native got a Nissan Frontier truck in college, he slapped a decal across the top of the windshield that reads, "Baseball is Life."

That's a fairly accurate summation of his 21 years, said his mother, Pam.

"He and his dad have done nothing but talk and play baseball since he could walk," she said. "If it's not a ball, he's not interested."

When he received toys for Christmas, the young Wieters would play with them for a few days and then set them aside to get back to sports. He began hitting balls off a tee as a toddler and, by adolescence, he could watch the Atlanta Braves with his dad and call the next pitch from Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux with uncanny accuracy.

He never had a serious girlfriend in high school. Most of his friends were teammates. Every coach, family member and friend asked to describe Wieters' personality started with "quiet."

"I like to have conversations," the Orioles draft pick said Thursday,"but I'm not someone who's going to go out and sing karaoke."

"But he'll talk your head off about baseball," said his father, Richard, a former minor league pitcher in the Braves and Chicago White Sox systems. "He's a baseball rat."

His college teammates may not have been far off with their nickname. Seasoned observers say that Wieters sometimes flows through games so naturally that he looks as if he may have created baseball.

"When you see him on the field, it just looks so easy for him," Richard Wieters said. "You just know it's what he's meant to do."

Wieters was so mature that he not only started at catcher as a freshman in high school but called every pitch. He started from Day One at Tech, where his combination of arm strength, catching acumen and power from both sides of the plate reminded Hall of past Yellow Jacket stars Jason Varitek and Mark Teixeira.

Orioles scout Dave Jennings considered watching Wieters a privilege. "You look at his size, the way he throws it, the power from both sides, you just don't see that," said the 16-year scout.

Wieters' parents and coaches said that beyond his physical talents, he ponders every scenario he faces and can't be pushed into decisions. It was Wieters, not his father nor agent Scott Boras, who decided how much money he'd give up to get on the field in the minutes before Wednesday night's signing deadline.

The day after, Boras said he was impressed that Wieters weighed all the factors without emotion and gave clear direction as to what he wanted.

"He has that Varitek quality, that ability to evaluate people and understand situations," the agent said.

Said Pam Wieters: "Even as a child, it was always like he had his own mind, his own purpose. And once he knew what he wanted to do, that was it."

Father knows best

Richard Wieters was a local legend around Charleston, S.C., where they still talk about the shots he hit as a star at The Citadel. The Braves drafted him in the fifth round, and he pitched five seasons in the minors, spending one under the guidance of a young coach named Leo Mazzone. He met his future wife through her brother, who also pitched in the Braves' system.

Richard Wieters moved on to an accounting career but still helped young pitchers around the Charleston suburb of Goose Creek, where he and Pam started a family. He didn't push Matt to focus on baseball, instead urging him to play all sports, from football to basketball to soccer.

But he did rely on his experience to steer his son toward catching and switch-hitting. "When I played, the two things they wanted and could never find enough of were guys who could switch-hit and guys who were willing to catch," he said. "So I figured if you put the two together, you'd have something."

Wieters called his father a huge baseball influence, saying, "He was the reason I picked up a ball when I was younger."

Pam Wieters, a high school teacher, noticed her son's analytical bent at an early age. When he first went out for soccer, he refused to enter a game until he'd stood on the sideline for a few moments and figured out the rules, movements and positions.

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