VIERA, Fla. — Just after 8 a.m., the Washington Nationals begin to trickle into their spring training clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium. The fresh sheen has long worn off spring training, which began three weeks ago for some.
But for one 59-year-old in a sleeveless red Nationals shirt, the day is already in full swing. Mark Weidemaier has been awake since 3:45 a.m. and at the stadium since 5. He has worked on scouting reports and gone over the day’s detailed schedule of drills down to the minute. And while seated in the clubhouse one recent morning he announced — loudly — the arrival of each player.
“Comin’ in hot,” Weidemaier booms, repeating his catchphrase after each entrance.
A baseball lifer, Weidemaier is a major league coach in the dugout for the first time in his career, and he’s not about to waste a minute of it being quiet — or sleeping.
“I’m pretty sure he has an IV of Red Bull at night,” reliever Tyler Clippard said. “I’m not sure. He wakes up in the morning at 4 a.m. and is just nonstop until he goes to bed again.”
Matt Williams worked closely with Weidemaier when both were with the Arizona Diamondbacks and grew to trust him. When Williams was named manager of the Nationals he brought Weidemaier with him to fill a new position: defensive coordinator/advance coach.
Weidemaier has spent 34 years in baseball doing all sorts of jobs, from coaching and managing in the United States, Mexico and the Dominican Republic to scouting all over the world to working for eight major league teams. Because of his unique background as both a longtime scout and coach, Weidemaier sees the game differently than most. Instead of judging players for their bat speed, fastball velocity or body type like a talent evaluator, he watches a game looking for ways to get an edge. He likes to call it “purposeful watching.”
For the past 18 years as an advance scout, Weidemaier sat in the stands with a keen eye watching opponents before they faced his team. He looked for ways to get their best hitter out, how to align the defense against them and how to steal bases on their pitching staff, all while keeping his manager’s preferences in mind. After games, he wrote up reports of 60 to 80 pages and filed the information into a database on his computer.
“He got a chance to sit up there and really take a hard look at what makes teams so successful and what doesn’t,” Williams said.
With the Diamondbacks in 2011, Williams was a young third base coach and Weidemaier was a newly hired advance scout but not in uniform. Weidemaier gave Williams not only scouting information about opponents but also passed along ideas about coaching, infield defense and base running. By 2012, they were close, and Williams told Weidemaier that if he ever became a manager, he would bring him along.
Weidemaier, a Columbus, Ohio native, had been wanting to return to the dugout. He became a coach because his own playing career was brief after finishing his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee. He coached college baseball and then moved to the Kansas City Royals’ minor league system in 1982. He managed in the Mexican professional league in 1988, ran an academy and learned to speak fluent Spanish. He then worked for the California Angels, from scouting to running their academy in the Dominican Republic.
Weidemaier was later a defensive coach in the New York Yankees’ system and worked at their Dominican academy. He has an American League pennant ring for his work in 1995 as an advance scout for the Cleveland Indians. He scouted for the Chicago White Sox in the late 1990s and spent 12 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers before joining the Diamondbacks in 2011. He knows most every winter ball team across Latin America.
“There’s not a whole lot I haven’t done,” said Weidemaier, who has been married to former Marine and author Tracy Crow for the past five years.
Ask Weidemaier to tell you stories about his time in baseball and be prepared for anything. There was a time while scouting in Venezuela in 1995 that he sat in a section where fans would fill empty cups with urine because they didn’t want to miss anything but the liquid would fly into the air along with beer after home runs. Or there was a time in 1986 when he was scouting in Guasave, Mexico, and he was given a spot behind home plate, but it was in an underground ditch under the stands with a small peep hole to watch the game. His career is filled with long bus rides through Mexico and flights to Venezuela and across the United States.
“Baseball is in my blood,” he said. “I love it.”
Weidemaier has perhaps the biggest personality and drive on the Nationals. Like his eye for baseball, he is a vivid storyteller. Profanity and jokes are as much a part of his vocabulary as baseball terminology. Laughter and smiles follow him wherever he goes.
“He’s hilarious,” first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “We’ll see if he can keep up this pace of Red Bull consumption or whatever he’s on. But he’s got some energy. I’m assuming he can keep it up. He’s pretty funny and very knowledgeable. You can tell he dissects the game in every situation.”
Prior to spring training, Weidemaier helped Williams plan out each minute of all 41 days of camp. To survive, he uses caffeine and humor. If you don’t see him coming, you certainly hear him.
“I like to have fun,” he said. “I think that’s part of my personality. I can come across as being a little bit crazy, which I do on purpose because it’s good. You’ve got to bust [chops]. We’ve lost that in this game to a certain degree.”
Weidemaier’s winding journey to this point reached a pinnacle before the Nationals’ Grapefruit League opener Feb. 28. He led the Nationals in full infield drills before batting practice, hitting groundballs with his fungo bat, a single white batting glove on his left hand and shouting both encouragement and silliness. Standing in the outfield of Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie while players later hit, the significance of the moment hit him. He had been here “a million times” as a scout but never like this.
“A dream come true,” Weidemaier said. “I can’t believe this [stuff]. I’ve got my uniform on, and I’m a major league coach. After 34 years.”