Jemile Weeks cherishes values instilled by family

OAKLAND -- The Weeks family naturally celebrates Thanksgiving year-round.

Sure, their dinner table may be more crowded on Thursday, covered with more food -- "Gotta have the cornbread," mother Valeria Weeks-McMillian said. "We love the cornbread" -- and more games than the normal day would likely allow time for.

But the acts of thanks, of reflection, of appreciation -- some or all of which are too often relegated to one holiday -- are ongoing, no matter if it's the third Thursday of November or the first or second Tuesday of April.

A conversation with Jemile Weeks, the family's middle child, proves just as much.

The Oakland A's second baseman, one of the game's top rookies in 2011 following his June promotion, takes nothing -- neither his big league status nor any perks that come with it -- for granted.

He talks of the childhood he had in a house of structure, under a roof filled with plenty of love -- the kind of tough love that meant homework and church always came before playtime in the streets.

"I got into my fair share of trouble when I wasn't home at a certain time," Weeks said, laughing.

But, eventually, Jemile always made it home. And the 24-year-old still finds his way there, never forgetting his Florida roots or the people responsible for creating them.

"The offseason time is about being with the family, and Jemile sure relishes that time," said Valeria, who is also mom to daughter, Kaisha, and son, Rickie, MIlwaukee's All-Star second baseman. "Baseball fills our hearts with joy for 162 days of the year, but these are the times we look forward to. These are the moments I wait for."

In the winter months, Jemile and Rickie make their offseason homes close to mom, who provides Sunday dinners after church. As a pastor, Valeria introduced her kids to church at a young age, so as to provide them with a "solid foundation."

"It was important for them to be there because it gave them character-building skills, putting God first and everything else second," Rickie Weeks Sr. said. "I think it really helped all of them socially, communicating with people and behaving the right way."

So they went multiple times a week, even if it meant Rickie Sr. sneaking out of service early with his sons in time for a baseball game. As they grew older, both took to the drums in the church musical group -- an exercise Jemile believes aided in the rhythmic and timing skills involved in hitting.

"Certain things were expected of us and certain things just weren't acceptable in our household that might have been next door," Jemile said. "They tried to raise us to a different standard, and we had no choice in the matter.

"We lived on a different schedule -- a good schedule that helped mold us."

But he insists, "When you have that type of guidance to steer you away from those bad influences, it really shapes your future, maybe a lot sooner than the person next to you."

Though baseball didn't mean much to Valeria if schoolwork wasn't done, several of her favorite early memories of Jemile came on the field, where her son -- who stands just 5-foot-8 -- would step to the plate, his opponents automatically coming in from the outfield and infield with little expectation.

"That was always funny to me because I thought, 'They really don't know who this kid is,'" Valeria said. "Whenever they did that, the ball always went over their heads. It never failed. The coaches and the parents on the sidelines, they'd say, 'Wow, look at that little kid go!'"

Even before that time, Rickie Sr. recalls Jemile in his stroller, impatiently waiting for his turn to join his older brother on the field.

"He would try to get himself out of that stroller," Rickie Sr. said. "He was like, "I gotta get out there and play baseball, dad!"

"He had all of us throwing the ball to him, with one of those plastic ball and bat sets," Valeria said. "I would have the ball and he'd say, 'Pitch the ball, mama!"

Said Jemile: "God blessed us with parents that care. Growing up in our house, you just learned how to be appreciative. You're supposed to be appreciative of the little things, so you know how to be appreciative of the bigger things."

There's undoubtedly much to be thankful for in the Weeks household. Jemile calls it a "sweet life" -- even when cornbread's not on the table.

"I always told Jemile, 'Big things come in small packages,'" Valeria said. "I truly believe that. I am so proud of him. I'm proud of him as a man, as my son."

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