Weeks proving his worth with Cougars
Promising second baseman working his way back after injury
In retrospect, the lost time on the day-by-day stat line for Kane County second baseman Jemile Weeks will look like a brief interruption, just a momentary blip on the radar screen.
But the fans on hand for the July 29 game between the Class A Cougars and the Peoria Chiefs know it could have been so much worse.
A Midwest League-record crowd of over 32,000 poured into Chicago's Wrigley Field that evening for the first-ever Minor League game played in the 94-year history of the "Friendly Confines."
Under evening blue skies with a light summer breeze, Weeks stepped to the plate against Audy Santana as the game's leadoff batter. Drafted by the Oakland A's in June as the 12th overall pick, Weeks had signed July 8 and was hitting .301 over his first 18 games as a pro.
Weeks grounded sharply to shortstop, but as he hustled to run it out, he appeared to stumble across the first-base bag, crashing to the ground, flat on his face.
He remained motionless for a few tense moments before he slowly got up, helped on both sides by attendants from Kane County, and was half-carried off the field.
No one was quite sure at first just how the injury had occurred or what the nature of it was, but to many watching, it appeared that Weeks' promising debut season might end right then and there.
It turned out to be a hip flexor, and Weeks is expected back in action any day now -- a huge relief to anyone who's been following this young man's career.
"It looked pretty bad, but he was able to put weight on it and walked up the stairs under his own power," Kane County manager Aaron Nieckula told MLB.com. "He's a limber guy, pretty flexible. When he hit the bag, it might have popped."
"He should be back beginning baseball activity any day now, and his return will be dependent on his pain," explained Oakland A's scouting director Eric Kubota. "It's not something that could get worse, so it's just a matter of being able to deal with his discomfort."
Most baseball fans in the Chicago area were certainly familiar with Weeks' name, if only indirectly. His older brother, Rickie, is the second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers, that club's first-round pick and the second player taken overall in 2003 out of Southern University.
Jemile Weeks could have been a Brewer himself, since that organization drafted him in the eighth round of 2005 out of high school in Altamonte Springs, Fla.
But he opted to continue his education at the University of Miami and played for the Hurricanes for three years, including two trips to the College World Series. He hit .363 with 13 homers, 63 RBIs and 22 steals (he was caught stealing once) as a junior.
Weeks came to Oakland's attention back in the summer of 2005 when he played in a high school tournament in Albuquerque. Ironically, A's director of player personnel Billy Owens was there to watch Justin Smoak, who ended up being drafted one slot ahead of Weeks this past spring out of South Carolina. The club had drafted Smoak out of high school and was following his progress when Owens saw Weeks.
"He came away very impressed by Jemile," Kubota said. And they have been more and more impressed the more they've gotten to watch him. "Obviously the athleticism jumps out at you right off the bat and coupled with his ability to just play the game, he's an outstanding baseball player with athletic tools."
The two Draft day experiences were three years and a world apart.
"I think this one was more of a sure thing," Weeks said. "Out of high school I was contemplating college, but coming into this draft I knew when the opportunity came that's where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. "
It was a busier day for Weeks this time around as well, with the Hurricanes playing in the Super Regional.
"After practice, me and my family met at a hotel across the street from the field to watch the Draft, then I ran back to the field for interviews," he recalled. "It was a very hectic, busy day but a very exciting one."
Looking back now, Weeks has no regrets about the decision he made in '05 to eschew the pros and head to college, where he majored in business management.
"It was a big decision, but I prayed about it and talked to my family about it and when I thought about it, reasoned it out, college was the best choice for me," he said. "And once I made that decision I had no regrets. I was wholeheartedly into it, so I went on and didn't think about anything else."
In those three years, Weeks learned about more than business management.
"Growing up with kids my age, being able to manage my own time without my parents around, being with people who were going through what I was going through" are among the benefits of going to college, he said. "Being at that collegiate level gives you more competition, more confidence to be able to play at the next level, I think."
And once he did make his pro debut, a day after signing with Oakland, things fell into place pretty quickly. He knows that perhaps having watched it all as Rickie went through it made that transition a little easier.
"There's not too much I didn't expect," he said. "But things are different in the pros. Double plays that take you out, the whole game is quicker. You have to be more aware in the field and I'm getting used to that."
Rickie, older by almost five years, is not the only athlete in the family. Taking a look at the brothers' bloodline it would be more of a surprise if they weren't playing professional sports for a living.
Dad Richard Sr. was an all-stare baseball star growing up in New Jersey while mom Valeria was a track star. Their sister Kaisha was a star hurdler at Southern University, while the siblings' grandfather, Victor Weeks, played in the Negro Leagues.
Once Weeks gets back in action, he'll have a few weeks before the Midwest League season ends (or, possibly, the California League season since the As' Stockton Ports just promoted their own second baseman, Adrian Cardenas, to Double-A Midland so Weeks could find himself on the west coast before the end of the month). After that, he's expected to continue playing this fall, though whether it will be at Oakland's instructional league facility in Phoenix or one of the domestic winter leagues in Hawaii or Arizona is still undecided.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.