Request an interview from Eric Weikert and the Georgia native will oblige in a manner befitting a true Southern gentleman. However, he will politely insist on a small caveat.
No mentioning the junior’s stats. No batting average, no RBI totals, no homers. Digits cloud focus. Numbers can lie.
This presents an obvious challenge: How do you capture success in a sport that lends itself to statistical analysis more than any other? How do you define a baseball player whose every swing, throw and catch is eternalized in cyberspace? What does Weikert contribute to the baseball team that can’t be logged according to formulas?
To find the answer, perhaps we need to go back to 2009, to an early August morning at Huskins Field. Across from Cousens Gym, coach John Casey and his staff were prepping the diamond for the Top 96 showcase clinic, when a casually dressed kid, looking eerily similar to one the Jumbos had recruited months earlier, walked across the field and said hello. Casey must have thought he saw a ghost.
It was Weikert. All the way from Georgia.
He wasn’t scheduled to show up at Tufts until matriculation later that month. Casey asked why in the world he flew two?and?a?half hours to the camp, even though the recruitment process ended when Weikert fell in love with the school on his overnight visit, so much so that he flew his ex?girlfriend up from Atlanta to see the campus.
Weikert really just wanted to visit Tufts again, check in and tell Casey that he planned to room with pitcher Alex Cronkite. Maybe, Weikert thought, Casey could get them into a good freshman dorm.
“I looked at him, and I thought I had a stroke and was on my way out, or this kid looks incredibly like a kid we just recruited,” Casey said. “It was surreal. He was the last guy I thought I’d see there at that moment. But that’s Weik.”
Being “Weik” involved calling in sick that day for his summer job with Delta Airlines and hopping on the first flight – free, of course – to Logan Airport. No bags, just a change of clothes that he brought for the preplanned occasion. Weikert’s mother, a Delta employee herself, still doesn’t know about the impromptu voyage. She thought he was working.
Weikert spent that summer working 40?hour weeks in the Atlanta heat, hauling cargo out of an enormous warehouse. Shipments came in from across the world. Ten?thousand pounds of lobster from Boston. Pre?released PlayStation 3s. Peppermint oil from India. One of those barrels exploded. Weikert smelled like peppermint for the rest of the day.
“That’s about as grunge of work as you can get, but it was good,” said Weikert, who spent last summer with the Waikiki Surfers in the Hawaii Collegiate Baseball League. “It taught me some good, strong work ethic stuff. It was brutal … I’m glad I don’t do that anymore.”
Or perhaps a more immediate example will suffice. For seven innings on April 3 in the Jumbos’ non?conference home opener against Brandeis, their bats – Weikert’s included – went into stall mode against freshman Kyle Brenner. In the eighth, with senior Matt Collins on first, Weikert ripped a fastball over the left?center field wall, an opposite?field bomb that set up senior Sam Sager’s walk?off hit in the ninth.
The homer came one day after Weikert was named NESCAC Player of the Week.
“When he’s at his best, he hits the ball like he did against Brandeis in the eighth inning,” Casey said. “He’s been big for us all year, to be honest with you. I was talking to the other coaches; I’m not sure there’s anyone we want up more with a runner on base than him right now.”
Weikert saw action in 16 games his freshman year, operating off a “shut?up?and?listen” policy. In 2011, he was one of the Jumbos’ most stable forces as the youngest regular starter in a veteran?loaded lineup. He hit .280, primarily out of the No. 6 spot, and slugged two homers in consecutive games during a crucial doubleheader sweep of Bowdoin in late April.
And when five starters graduated in May, Weikert was there, ready to step into a leadership role, ready after two seasons of listening and preparing. He opened up his stance, modeled after those of big?league first basemen Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Howard. Things have been more fluid and comfortable since.
“We always felt he was good, and I think he just found a way to keep getting better,” Casey said. “He went from being a pretty important guy for us last year in a lot of ways to becoming a leader as a junior. And that’s tough. Not a lot of guys do it.”
Not a lot of guys also make formal requests to withhold statistics from conversation. But the new approach was a conscious decision on Weikert’s part, made before the season began and after the Jumbos heard a talk on mental training.
They were shown an ESPN E:60 video of Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria and his journey from unrecruited high schooler to superstar. Longoria, the video explained, followed three basic guidelines to his success: faith in process, being in the moment and taking it pitch by pitch. Weikert was sold.
“Those are some things I’ve adopted from Longoria, and it’s been incredible,” Weikert said. “I used to be all about the numbers. I was one of those guys who would analyze the numbers and get caught up in the numbers game. But baseball’s more about the process, and not the result.”
Weikert made a decision. Playing the game by the numbers was too stress inducing. It doesn’t matter if he goes 5?for?6 or 0?for?6. That’s just how it was going to be.
On a blustery Thursday afternoon, one day before Tufts began a three?game series against Trinity, Weikert approached a bike rack outside Carmichael Hall to unlock his newest purchase, a red moped.
He needed a way to get to Davis Square during the summer so, after convincing his parents, Weikert browsed Craigslist for two weeks and found this, a small investment.
Weikert bought the moped on Wednesday.
His first ride was to practice.