Jemile Weeks' meteoric rise has sense of destiny

OAKLAND -- Here's a shopping list for your Jemile Weeks build-a-big-leaguer starter kit:

Tree branch, acorns, bottle caps, socks rolled into a ball, swimming pool, drum set, standard baseball equipment.

Mix in liberal amounts of strict parenting and great baseball/athletic genes, add love and hard work, boil under the Florida sun for 20 years, and the result is an overnight major-league sensation.

Jemile Weeks.

The A's called up Weeks from Triple-A on June 7, a temp fill-in for injured second baseman Mark Ellis. Weeks made himself at home and Ellis was traded. Weeks has been a .300-hitting switch-hitter with speed and style, a waif (5-foot-10 and 162 pounds) run amok, dreadlocks flying.

While playing in a home-field atmosphere that is a baseball version of the witness protection program, Weeks has given the A's the kind of instant impact that the legendary Buster Posey gave the Giants last season.

(Posey in 2010: 108 games, .305 BA, .756 OPS. Weeks in 2011: 95 games, .305 BA, .766 OPS.)

"We've got something special here," says Mike Gallego, the A's third-base/infield coach.

You sit down to talk with Weeks and you wonder where the rookie is.

Acts as if he belongs
There is a hint of awe when he talks about coming to the big leagues: "The most fun thing is just being here. Getting called up, I was too happy. ... And then we get on those plane flights, man, going to the different cities. ... The food is all there for you, complimentary, you've got first-class seating throughout the plane, iPods playing ..."

But mostly Weeks carries himself as if he is unimpressed that he is tearing up big-league pitching, as if he has been here 100 years - which, in a genetic sense, he has.

Weeks' brother Rickie (4 1/2 years older and an All-Star second baseman for the Brewers), their father, their grandfather and their great-grandfather all had notable baseball careers.

Jemile has been a serious player since before he could walk. Growing up in the Orlando area, he would strain to roll his walker onto the field, wanting to play ball with Rickie. Jemile learned to count by keeping track of how many batting-practice pitches dad would throw to Rickie, then demanding an equal number of pitches.

Jemile's father, Rickie Sr., remembers coaching Rickie Jr.'s team when he was about 8. The players were complaining that someone was throwing rocks onto the field. Finally they noticed little 4-year-old Jemile under a nearby oak tree, using a tree branch to fungo acorns onto the field.

Sticks and stones
The Weeks boys would hit acorns, bottle caps, tennis balls. They would swing underwater in the swimming pool. They would play sockball in the house, hitting from one knee. A hit into the couch is a double; over the couch is a homer. Break a vase or a dinner plate, uh-oh.

Broken china, that was the extent of trouble caused by the Weeks boys.

Rickie Sr. taught elementary school. Mom, Valeria, was in the Pentecostal ministry, on her way to becoming a pastor. You've heard of good cop/bad cop? The Weeks children had to deal with teacher/preacher.

"He and Rickie have not been mischievous, not under my roof," says Valeria Weeks-McMillian (she and Rickie Sr. are divorced, but are on friendly terms). "I'm just blessed, that's all I can say."

Both parents loved sports, but if the three kids (daughter Kaisha is one year younger than Rickie Jr.) were pushed and prodded, it was in the direction of the house rule: homework and church first, then baseball.

"We knew who the parents were. Put it that way," Jemile says with a smile.

Weeks is unfailingly respectful to umpires. An A's staffer recently asked him to make a public appearance and did a double take when Weeks showed up in shirt and tie. That's not the way today's ballplayer rolls.

Dress-up habits aren't all Jemile learned in church. He copied Rickie Jr. by becoming a drummer in the church's musical group and says that helped him develop rhythm, timing and hand-eye coordination, all useful in hitting. (Check out Weeks' stickwork on YouTube, in a drum-off with the Stockton Ports' mascot - "Dinger and Jemile Weeks drum battle.")

Claiming his place
The A's drafted Weeks in 2008 out of Miami, the 12th overall pick. Injuries stalled his progress, but this year Weeks was healthy and ready when the A's called him up.

In his second game, Weeks doubled, singled and was deprived of a triple on a scorekeeping decision. The graph of his batting average is as smooth as his swing.

"I pretty much showed up and went to work," Weeks says, adding, "I don't know if it was that easy, but I knew a big factor of being up here was confidence, and that's something I try not to lack at any stage of the game. Obviously I had some nervousness, but I had to realize that you're called up for a reason."

The reason: Weeks can rake. His fielding is flashy, but rough around the edges. His swing is silk. Opposing pitchers haven't found the holes in his swing that often are the downfall of a hot rookie.

"You see a lot of guys," Gallego says, "they might start off pretty well and taper off. You see that happen a lot. This kid has, consistently, day after day, thrown major-league at-bats up there. Very impressive."

Weeks shrugs. Why should pitchers' adjustments knock him off-stride?

"Just like they try to understand me, I try to get an understanding of what they're trying to do to me," he says.

Rickie Sr. says, "I know they have hitting coaches in the big leagues, but Jemile was always big on correcting himself. After every swing, he always knows what he's done wrong."

The stroke is locked in. So is the attitude. Manager Bob Melvin says he is impressed with Weeks' reaction to the inevitable rookie speed bumps.
"He gets mad," says Melvin. "He doesn't start to doubt himself, drop the head and feel sorry for himself. He's very tenacious in what he does. He respects the game and he respects the opponent, but he's not awed by anybody, and that's pretty impressive to me."

If Weeks is riding a roller coaster of rookie emotion, it's all hidden under the polite smile.

"I wouldn't want to play him in a card game," Gallego says. "One of my big things for being a big-league player is not showing your cards, not letting the opponent know you're upset, that he beat you; not letting people know what you're thinking. ... I can't read the guy, and that's a good thing."

Family tree
Jemile Weeks' brother, Rickie Jr., plays for the Brewers, of course. But his family's sporting heritage spreads far wider:

-- Jemile's sister, Kaisha, was a star sprinter at Southern University in New Orleans.

-- His father, Rickie Sr., was a prep baseball star in New Jersey and played at Seton Hall and Stetson University.

-- His mother, Valeria, competed in basketball and track in high school.

-- His maternal grandfather, Victor, 82, played for several teams in the Negro Leagues before a knee injury ended his career. He is now blind but follows his grandsons' careers closely. Rickie Jr. and Jemile are well aware of their grandfather's career in the Negro Leagues. "He definitely gave us an inspiration and kept us determined," Jemile says. "I think (from knowing Victor's story) you have a different awareness. ... It's a different type of appreciation."

-- He has a maternal grandmother who was a prep basketball star, a great-grandfather who was a top college shot-putter and another great-grandfather who was an ambidextrous pitcher who barnstormed in the Carolinas and Virginia.

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