The Yard Goats new manager says baseball players can learn a lot from Israelis. And he should know.
By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – You can tell a lot about a person from the books they read.
On Jerry Weinstein’s desk inside his office at Dunkin’ Donuts Park where he manages the Hartford Yard Goats, sit the books The Way of Baseball by former major leaguer Shawn Green, Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday and Talent is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin – each of which should probably be read by every cocky young baseball player.
Another book on Weinstein’s desk is David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell, which celebrates the underdog.
Weinstein may well have used that book as a guide this past March when he managed Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic (WBC). This was the first time Team Israel had made it to the WBC, and despite the roster being loaded with Jewish-American major- and minor-leaguers, it was the lowest-ranked team at the beginning of the baseball tournament.
“We were severe underdogs in most people’s eyes, but in our eyes and in the locker room, we believed we could win,” Weinstein said. “We played together extremely well and with energy and we performed well above expectations. We beat the number three team in the world, the number four team, the number five team and the number nine team.”
Team Israel ended up losing to Team Japan on March 15, but Jews around the world cheered them on and the Jewish players and coaches did much to promote Israel around the globe.
Weinstein said that as someone who did not have a strong Jewish upbringing — but feels “absolutely Jewish” — representing Israel made him kvell.
Listening to the Israeli National anthem “Hatikvah” before every game and “standing on the field in our kippas, we all felt proud,” Weinstein said, putting his hand over his heart.
Manager of the Hartford Yard Goats since January, Weinstein is now focused on the AA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
“I was excited to come to Hartford because of the new facility,” he says. “I was also excited because I really like the ownership group here…And everybody who works here is great. With all of the labor pains they have had here, you just want them to be successful and if I can help in doing that, I’ll be happy.”
“We are excited to have someone with Jerry’s experience lead our club in our first season in Hartford,” said Yard Goats General Manager Tim Restall. “Having someone that has coached in the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues and the Olympics is a huge benefit to our club.”
Weinstein was born and bred in California. The product of a “broken home” as he calls it, he and his mother lived with her parents for several years when he was a child.
“They were observant Jews. They had Shabbos and lit the candles on Fridays and on High Holy Days I went to temple,” he said.
After moving out of their home with his mom at the age of 12, there was not much in the way of Jewish practice.
The one thing he was passionate about from a young age was sports, especially baseball.
“We would go to the park early in the morning – a group of us original ‘latch-key’ kids — and maybe run home and get something to eat, then play again until late at night,” he recalls.
Weinstein went on to get a bachelors degree in history and a masters degree in physical education from UCLA, playing on the UCLA Freshman baseball team and later on the varsity team.
His goal was to be a coach.
“I knew I wanted to be involved in baseball. I knew I wasn’t good enough to be an impact professional player so early on I started coaching a lot of youth league teams, worked for the parks department. I always knew I wanted to stay in athletics,” he said.
Weinstein was a high school and college baseball and football coach from the late ‘60s through around 1980 at colleges around California.
Coaching in professional baseball “was never on my bucket list,” he says. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
That right time and place was LA Valley College in 1980 when he met a scout for the Baltimore Orioles who needed a part-time catching coordinator for their minor league team.
“That was my start in professional baseball,” he said. “I worked for them for three years and rode with them during the summers.”
From 1985 through 1998, he was a faculty member and head baseball coach at Sacramento City College, but during those years he also spent time coaching minor league teams for the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs. He became catching coordinator for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1999 and then was named director of player development the next year. He later headed back to coach college baseball at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for five years.
In 1992 and 1996 he was an assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic baseball team.
In 2005, Weinstein was named head coach of the U.S. baseball team in the Maccabiah Games. That was his first time travelling to Israel, and he spent a month there.
“I had a great experience – loved it,” he says. “It was unbelievable and vibrant. The [Israeli] people are really under duress on a daily basis, but they go about their lives and they are positive and enthusiastic. They enjoy life, it is not ‘woe is me’ and waiting for the next rocket to fall.”
He adds that baseball players can learn something important from the Israelis. “Resilience,” he said. “I think that is the biggest thing. Baseball is game of failure. You have to be resilient. You have to be able to withstand some of the roadblocks.”
In 2015, he managed the Israeli baseball team for the Maccabiah Games, and with contacts made there, got the chance to coach Team Israel in the WBC in March.
Meanwhile, Weinstein had been recruited by Bill Geivett of the Colorado Rockies. “At one point [The Rockies] said, ‘We want you to coach in the Big Leagues.’ I said, ‘Well, I really like the minor leagues,’ and they said, ‘Hey! We’re talking about the Big Leagues!’ I said, ‘I’ll do whatever you want me to do.”
Weinstein, 74, has now spent 11 seasons with the Rockies’ organization in a variety of coaching capacities.
When the organization needed a manager for the Yard Goats, they went to him.
“They asked, ‘Would you do this? I said, ‘Sure,’ but I checked with my wife first,” he laughed.
He praises the city of Hartford and their support of the Yard Goats.
“The Rockies really like being in Hartford. They like the city and they like the fans. This is a perfect marriage from our point of view – it is the exact kind of affiliate you want. These people are very sensitive to the needs of the organization and the players,” he said.
Weinstein and his wife Andrea are the parents of two and grandparents of two grandsons who are both firefighters in California. The Weinsteins are still based in San Luis Obispo, Calif., but during the baseball season they are living in an apartment in downtown Hartford and getting to know the area.
“I love it. It’s a great city,” he said. “I hope the stadium is going to be a boon to the downtown area. Hartford is friendly. Good food, nice people. And the people who come to the ballpark are great baseball fans.”
Helping Israeli baseball grow
Jerry Weinstein said that he also would love to continue to work with the Israel Association of Baseball (IAB) on its mission to promote baseball in Israel.
The IAB, which sponsored Team Israel in the WBC, engages some 1,200 Israelis of all religious and ethnic backgrounds who play on 80 teams in several leagues, ranging from Little League to adult, and who represent Israel in national teams abroad. IAB is a member of the Israel Olympic Committee, the Confederation of European Baseball and the International Baseball Federation, the Positive Coaching Alliance, Major League Baseball International, and Little League.
The IAB is also raising funds to build baseball fields all over Israel.
“Our biggest goal at the WBC was to generate awareness and revenue for the Israeli baseball association so they can get the program really off the ground,” Weinstein said. “Hopefully that awareness is going to produce the revenue to build facilities, hire staff and promote the game the way it needs to be promoted.
“If they need me, absolutely, I want to help them anyway I can. I feel very connected to baseball in Israel.”