Each week during the 2022 spring season, MGoBlue.com will highlight a Michigan baseball student-athlete, written by team manager Jake Sage. This week, he highlights pitcher Willie Weiss, who went from receiving one college offer to committing Michigan and became a trusted reliever.
By Jake Sage
While Willie Weiss now strikes fear into opposing batters when he trots out of the Michigan bullpen to “Save a Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” by Big & Rich, it was not always that way for the 6-foot-3-inch right-hander. Instead, Weiss has learned to constantly adapt and make the best of new situations throughout his life of him.
He always had a passion for sports and throwing, as his first word was “ball.” The young Weiss threw anything that was shaped like a ball. Weiss’ mother, Marnie, tells stories about how they would go out to dinner and Willie would grab rolls of bread and throw them across the restaurant.
Growing up in Scappoose, Ore., A small country town of 6,000 people, Weiss knew that if he wanted to accomplish his dreams of playing a sport in college, he would have to move to a more athletically-competitive town. That is why in seventh grade, the Weiss family left Scappoose and moved to Portland.
However, Weiss was a late bloomer despite being one of the best players on his teams, and he struggled to get recruited by top-tier Division I programs early in his high school career.
During his prep career, Weiss used the arm talent he had begun to develop at a young age around the dinner table to become the starting quarterback for his football team. That accomplishment was short-lived, as he suffered an elbow injury in his first game with Westview High.
Weiss dominated as he led Westview to a big lead. During the third quarter, he fired a pass on a go route and broke his elbow without any contact. However, the next play from the coach came in so quickly, Weiss decided to not come off the field and threw another pass for a touchdown before sprinting off the field. After going straight to the emergency room, Weiss was more concerned about what had happened at the game than his elbow di lui, asking his mom if Westview had won, only to find out his team had blown the lead and lost.
After recovering from his elbow injury, Weiss’ sports career pivoted as he decided to focus solely on baseball. It had been a dream for him to play baseball at Westview and win a state championship ever since he was the batboy for its 2011 state champion team. However, through his sophomore and junior seasons, he had yet to win the state championship. He also was throwing only about 87 mph of the mound, and was invited to the Area Code Games as a third baseman, not a pitcher. Still, while many of his friends di lui were committing to universities by the end of their junior seasons, Weiss had no offers. Though he was not sure why he was getting overlooked, he continued to work hard, believing that someone would eventually give him an opportunity.
Then, in his junior year, everything began to change at the Arizona Junior Fall Classic. He dominated on the mound with Michigan assistant coach Nick Schnabel in the stands. After an outstanding performance, Weiss got his first college offer from the University of Portland, which gave him two weeks to commit. Weiss was convinced his college education of him would start at there.
That all changed when the Wolverines reached out and asked him to come on a visit to Ann Arbor. Despite the visit coming after the two-week deadline from the University of Portland, Weiss knew he had to make the trip. As soon as he stepped foot on campus and watched the Wolverines football team beat the Hoosiers 20-10 in the snow, he knew Michigan was the place for him.
After being convinced he would spend the next four years at the University of Portland, Weiss once again pivoted after his trip to Ann Arbor and committed to Michigan as a two-way.
Despite knowing where he was headed after his senior season at Westview, Weiss still was hungry realize the dream of earn the state championship. Working hard the entire offseason, he got on the mound for the season’s first game. A friend’s dad held a radar gun behind the backstop, and it read 93 mph. Weiss did not believe it at first, but he continued to reach that mark throughout the season. Thanks to the combination of his body’s development and a lot of hard work, Weiss started to think that he may have a future as a pitcher for the first time.
It all came together during his senior season on the mound, in the field and at the plate. He won Gatorade Player of the Year in Oregon, and more importantly, accomplished his goal of winning a state championship for Westview. Just seven years prior, Willie stood in amazement watching the team celebrate as the batboy, and now he was right in the middle of the dogpile as a player.
After winning the championship his senior year, Weiss went out to California to play for the PUF Caps, who had a lot of big-name college prospects. He hit every pitch into the batting turtle during his first round of batting practice with his new team. Next up to the plate came Austin Wells, who became the 30th overall pick for the New York Yankees in the 2020 Amateur Draft. Wells proceeded to hit balls over the fence into the parking lot.
After Weiss took the batting cage again, the result of which was not much better than the first round of swings, he decided that he better stay on the mound. Once again, Weiss figured out what was best for him and pivoted. He went up to the head coach to tell him he was a pitcher only.
Throughout his life and baseball career, there has been one constant inspiration in Weiss ‘life: his grandfather, Bill Rawlings, who bought an RV during Weiss’ first year with the Caps to travel to every game with the team.
The impact Rawlings has made on Weiss was indescribable. Rawlings constantly played catch with his grandson and beat Willie in a 40-yard dash until Weiss turned 14. Also, Willie notes, his grandfather – who was a national coach of the year in high school softball – taught him a lot both about baseball and the importance of working hard.
Though Weiss may have been under-recruited at first, he has become an integral part of the Wolverines’ success, which included helping Team 153 reach the College World Series. He earned a Freshman All-American selection by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper for his role di lui coming out of the bullpen in 2019. He had another outstanding season in the bullpen last year, earning All-Big Ten third-team honors.
This season Weiss will be doing what he has done successfully his whole life: pivoting. He will now be starting games for the Wolverines instead of finishing them, as the right-hander looks to accomplish what he did his senior year of high school: help his team win championships.