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Weeks patriarchs lead to years in game

Weeks patriarchs spent years in ball

Rickie Weeks Sr. doesn't want to say for sure, but he has a pretty good idea that baseball in his family is genetic.

Why not?

Starting with his father, Victor, and ending with his youngest son, Jemile, the men in the Weeks family have one thing in common: success on the baseball field. Victor played in the Negro Leagues, Rickie Sr. and his brother, Barry, were prominent high school and college players, Rickie Jr. is a standout second baseman with the Brewers and, after starring for the University of Miami, Jemile was a first-round Draft pick earlier this month, chosen by the Oakland A's with the 12th overall pick.

But it all goes back to the man who spends most of his time sitting in his chair chewing gum and evaluating.

Victor, 79, is blind now. Glaucoma gradually erased all of his eyesight. But it's very easy to see that if it weren't for his interest in baseball during the tension-filled 1940s, this Weeks family may be known for something other than America's Pastime.

"I definitely appreciate what [Victor] and the other Negro League players did," Jemile said. "It's easier to appreciate it when you have one of those people in your family. I've been able to talk first-hand with him a lot, and I got to appreciate what he went through.

"Without those guys, what me and [Rickie Jr.] are doing wouldn't be possible."

Playing in a rough era

Victor may only see gray shadows when he opens his eyes nowadays, but the memories he holds from his two years playing in the Negro Leagues are clear as day.

Life wasn't very easy back then, when Victor played for several Negro League teams, most notably the Newark Eagles.

In that time, the late '40s, players rode buses across the eastern United States carrying four or five tires in the back because it was almost certain their ride would break down.

"You had to make sure you had a good mechanic," Victor said.

Their restrooms were the woods. They stayed in boarding houses because hotels were never available. And the friendships with their white opponents were invisible beyond the baseball field.

"That was something I really didn't understand as much," Victor said. "How can they phase us out? After the game, they were a very different type of people.

"You kept to yourself, they kept to themselves. Everybody knew their place, did what they were supposed to do, and that was about it."

Victor was born in North Carolina at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929.

When he was a child, police officers showed up at his front door, forcing Victor and his family to pack up their stuff and move in the middle of a freezing-cold night. When he was 9, he strayed away from his mother to buy a Coke, but they wouldn't sell it to him because he was on the white side of the train station.

"I just wanted a Coke," Victor said. "I began to learn from then on, you have to learn the signs about where you go and where you belong."

If there was one place Victor felt at home, however, it was on the baseball field.

In a time of racial turbulence, the diamond served as the great equalizer. While showing off his cannon arm in right field -- he once retrieved a ball 300 feet away from home plate and gunned it over the catcher's head -- Victor was free from the segregation that went on outside the lines.

He played baseball all the way through grade school until he made a Negro Leagues team roster, the Moorestown Pirates, in 1947. But after playing two years alongside eventual greats like Hank Thompson, Larry Doby and Roy Campanella, Victor's baseball career came to a screeching halt when bad knees sent him to the sidelines.

Victor's son develops a curiosity for the game

Rickie Sr. never got to see his dad play, but baseball was always a part of his life.

He recalls going into Victor's closet when he was a toddler in Moorestown, N.J., and seeing an assortment of bats that piqued his interest.

"The bat heads were as tall as me," he said. "I remember picking it up and seeing somebody on TV playing baseball, and I said, 'Oh, that's what it's for. Swinging.'"

Rickie Sr. swung right on into high school in Orange, N.J., where he received all-state recognition as a second baseman in 1977 before playing at Seton Hall and then moving to Florida to finish his college career at Stetson University. But to this day, he wishes his father could've been a bigger part of his baseball life.

Long hours working as an electrician and an eventual divorce made Victor's relationship with his sons difficult. And what happened in 1966 made it nearly impossible.

Victor was 37 at the time and was walking to the kitchen one morning for breakfast. Then, he crouched down to the floor after feeling a sudden pain in his head.

"It felt like somebody hit me with a baseball bat," Victor said.

Victor had blown the optic nerve in his eye because of glaucoma he inherited at birth. Within five years, he wouldn't be able to see five rows in front of him, and today, he can't see his own hands if he holds them up in front of his face.

More importantly, he couldn't see how good of a baseball player Rickie Sr. turned out to be.

"It made me feel like I was being cheated," Rickie Sr. said. "He couldn't hit me ground balls. I couldn't play catch with him. Here I am in high school as a star, making some dynamic plays, and my father couldn't see me do that.

"I just felt funny about it."

Rickie Jr. and Jemile get the itch early

Rickie Sr. made sure he saw his kids play baseball in Altamonte Springs, Fla. But he didn't have to push anything upon them.

At the age of 6, Rickie Jr. was already playing catch, and at 8 he had already made up his mind about his future.

"Rickie [Jr.] told me, 'Dad, I want to be a baseball player,'" Rickie Sr. said. "I know a lot of kids say that, but he knew. And I knew he was serious."

Jemile, four years younger than Rickie, was no different.

When he was only 1, Jemile would be in his walker watching his older brother play catch and was itching to jump out and join him. Then, when he was still a toddler, and Rickie Jr. was playing AAU ball, Jemile would watch Rickie Jr. take 100 swings in the batting cages and want to do the same thing.

"There was no way I couldn't throw him his 100 pitches," Rickie Sr. said. "And his little arms -- he would try to get 100 like his bigger brother, and I was like, 'Man, give up. You're shoulder's hurting.' And he said, 'No.'

"He would keep going so he could get that same number."

Rickie Jr. and Jemile have grown up, and now, Rickie Sr.'s life revolves around his sons.

"They are my job," he said.

During baseball season, Rickie Sr. is in his Orlando, Fla., home a maximum of 10 days out of the month. The rest of the time, he's driving to Jemile's University of Miami games -- he's already logged nearly 250,000 miles on his 2000 Mercedes SUV -- or flying across the country to Rickie's Brewers games.

Still, it's the grandfather that gets the most respect.

"When you got to a point when you thought you knew everything, he was always the person that could teach you something," Rickie Sr. said. "Sometimes they say, 'All right, Dad. Yeah, Dad. I know, I know.' But my father would be sitting there chewing on some gum waiting on the right moment.

"Dad couldn't get the point across, but he can."

Victor tries to make it to Jemile's UM games as much as possible. Even though he can't see what's going on in the field, he can tell what Jemile did wrong at the plate by the sound the ball makes when it hits the aluminum bat.

And even though he can't make it to Milwaukee, most of the time, Victor knows the ins and outs of the Brewers.

"He probably knows everybody in this clubhouse -- from the regulars to the callups to the Minor Leaguers in the organization," Rickie Jr. said. "He knows everything. He's just a fan of the game.

"He just sits back and listens."

Perhaps Victor sat back and listened with the greatest satisfaction on Christmas Day 2007, when Rickie Sr.'s Christmas gift to his father was a DVD titled "The Secrets of the Negro Leagues."

That day, Victor was joined by Rickie Sr., Rickie Jr. and Jemile in Milwaukee, as they were educated on the life Victor lived in pioneering this great baseball family.

Then, the conversation switched to Jemile, and the oldest Weeks turned to the youngest Weeks and said: "I've seen some very difficult plays out of you that you handle so well. Just wondering how you developed that?"

"It's from the genes," Jemile said.

"Well," Victor replied, "I'm glad to see you carry those genes on."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Adam McCalvy contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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