PHOENIX -- It seemed the entire baseball world was surprised when the Tigers pounced on Prince Fielder in January, inking the slugger to a nine-year, $214 million contract when Detroit was barely mentioned as a suitor. Rickie Weeks wasn't surprised at all. Weeks was at Fielder's home in Orlando a few days before the megadeal went down, hanging out with Fielder and fellow former Brewers teammate Tony Gwynn Jr. Fielder informed his friends that the Tigers were making a play, and Weeks, the godfather of Fielder's two sons, could tell it was serious.
"It's a great thing for him," Weeks said. "I'd rather see him here, of course, but it didn't happen. I have to move on, just like everybody else." Surprised that Weeks would take a ho-hum approach toward the departure of his best friend and one of the Brewers' best players? Then you do not know the Brewers' 29-year-old second baseman. Quiet, focused and apparently allergic to excuses, Weeks has been a favorite of the past three Brewers managers because of a toughness that was on full display in 2011. He was feared lost for the season after suffering a nasty ankle injury on July 27, when Weeks lunged for first base and fell to the dirt in a heap. When he went down and actually stayed down, manager Ron Roenicke knew it was bad. Yet, Weeks managed to return on Sept. 10 and played throughout the Brewers' postseason run at obviously less than full strength. He also struggled, going 1-for-18 in the National League Division Series and 5-for-23 in the NL Championship Series, with no multihit games.
But the fact he staged a comeback at all meant something, teammates said."A regular person wouldn't have been back," said Brewers third-base coach Ed Sedar. "Rickie is different. There was no doubt in my mind that he would be back." Sedar has seen Weeks' toughness before. In April 2009, Weeks was struck flush in the face by a 94-mph fastball from the Reds' Edinson Volquez, but stayed in the game and played the next day, too. An Associated Press photo captured the moment of impact, and then manager Ken Macha was such a fan of its symbolism that he had it framed and hung in his office. Today, the photo still hangs in the clubhouse dining room and a new manager is raving about the second baseman. "He really wants to win, and whether he's 100 percent or not, when he's out there, he feels he gives our team a better chance to win," Roenicke said. Weeks, who has been with the Brewers since the team made him the second-overall pick in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, did help the Brewers win early last season, when he signed a four-year contract extension in Spring Training and responded with an All Star-caliber first half. Going into that night he was injured, Weeks ranked second in the NL with 71 runs scored, and his 3.9 WAR (wins above replacement) made Weeks the most valuable second baseman in the NL, according to fangraphs.com. The Brewers are banking on a bounce-back season, counting on Weeks to help cover the offensive void left by Fielder's departure. Considering the respect he carries in the clubhouse, Weeks also could be counted on as a team leader, though he downplayed that part of his game. "I hate when people say 'leadership role,'" Weeks said. "That puts it on just one person. With the group that we have, it's more of a collective thing. "I have been here for a while, and there are certain things I have to say. But it's me, Corey [Hart], other guys who have been here for a while. The whole leadership thing, I don't like to name anyone a captain or anything like that. We have a good team, a good clubhouse, and everyone speaks up for themselves." Weeks is still dealing with the effects of his ankle injury, which comes as no surprise to his manager. Roenicke suffered a similar sprain in 1981, his rookie season with the Dodgers, which cost Roenicke a chance to play in the World Series. Roenicke said his ankle was never quite the same. Weeks, he predicted, would fight through. "Mike Scioscia is probably the toughest guy I've ever been around," Roenicke said. "And Rickie is certainly up there." Said new teammate Aramis Ramirez: "I don't know about toughness yet, but I know there are no other second basemen like him. He's different. He doesn't look like a second baseman, but he's one of the best second baseman in the game, the whole package." Weeks, for his part, loathes talking about the various physical setbacks that have helped define his career. He has had surgery on both of his wrists, missed some of the 2008 postseason because of a knee injury and has only once played more than 130 games in a season. That was 2010, when he led the Majors with 754 plate appearances and 25 plunkings. His ankle, he said, is "a whole lot better." "I'm doing everything full speed," Weeks said. "I'm probably doing things 95 percent -- nothing crazy. It's going pretty good." He took part in the first baserunning drills of the spring on Sunday, when players practiced going from first to third and scoring from second base. Roenicke said there were no issues. Weeks will spend the spring working with a new shortstop for the fourth straight year. The Brewers have gone from J.J. Hardy to Alcides Escobar to Yuniesky Betancourt to Alex Gonzalez, a quality defender who signed in December. "The biggest thing is just getting to know them," Weeks said. "It's really not that big of a deal. It seems like I've done it every year so far." No big deal. Weeks might as well have that tattooed on his arm. "It's huge to have guys like that," Roenicke said. "Rickie is not very vocal to the team, but when Rickie is vocal, the guys, they respond."