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Former Concordia swim captain makes mark in Major League Baseball

By Jake Knabel on Mar. 5, 2018 in Baseball

As recently as homecoming 2015, Terry Wetzel stepped foot on a Concordia University campus he has seen only a couple of times since his graduation in 1979. Seated at a table in the Cattle Conference Room, Wetzel and his former teammates relived memories from the glory days of Bulldog swimming. The former two-year swim captain had a unique story to tell on that particular Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame induction night.

Read his business card. He’s the type of person you want to talk to at a party. Meet Terry Wetzel, Special Assistant to the President of Baseball Operations & General Manager of the Washington Nationals, a Major League Baseball franchise. Just don’t let the prestigious title fool you. Wetzel is a down-to-Earth native Nebraskan.

Said Wetzel, “I hadn’t seen some of those people since 78-79. That was a long time ago. I’ve talked to them. I just hadn’t seen them in person. To visit and catch up with them was really cool. You kind of reflect back on everybody’s lives and look at what they’ve done. It’s amazing how fast time goes.”

Wetzel has spent a great deal of that time doing his best to help Major League Baseball teams secure talented players and win games. The Grand Island native has served 35 combined years with the Kansas City Royals, the Colorado Rockies and the Washington Nationals. In terms of scouting experience, Wetzel has pretty much done it all. He started at the bottom of the totem pole and worked his way up based on his own merit.

Naturally, the first question that pops up: how did an accomplished college swimmer in the education track wind up as a high-level executive for a MLB franchise? We’re talking about an individual who pitched two innings of a scrimmage game as freshman, suffered an injury and decided to focus his athletic pursuits solely on swimming. Wetzel eventually found his way to Houston, Texas, after earning his master’s degree from Valparaiso University.

Wetzel simplifies his career shift, reasoning that he had the fortune of being in the right place at the right time. Then a Lutheran teacher and coach, Wetzel headed a talent rich American Legion summer team in Houston. That’s where an unexpected opportunity arose.

“I just kind of got lucky,” Wetzel said. “I was talking to one of the scouts at a game. He said, ‘Hey, would you have any interest in being a part-time scout and help me out?’ I said, ‘Sure, tell me what that means.’ He just laid out what I had to do. I could still teach and coach at the same time. I was interested in it not knowing or even thinking that it could lead to another career. That really wasn’t what I was looking for at the time.”

Suddenly, Wetzel had his foot in the door. Soon he and others within Major League Baseball realized what a knack he had for scouting. Wetzel dropped teaching in 1985 and became a full-time scout with the Kansas City Royals, his employer until he left for the Rockies in 2000. In November 2014, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo hired Wetzel to his current post.

Wetzel, who has a wife Patricia and children Jenna and Ryan, continues to live in the Kansas City area. In regards to his profession, Wetzel joked that it doesn’t matter where you live as long as you’re close to an airport. The job has him trotting the globe. MLB teams will literally go to the ends of the Earth in their efforts to uncover baseball’s next big thing. Recently, Wetzel ventured to the west coast to prep the team’s amateur scouts for the upcoming draft.

“What I do is basically whatever Mike Rizzo asks me to do, whether it’s go see a major league player or minor league player,” Wetzel said. “I help a lot with the amateur draft scouting at the college and high school levels as we get ready for that in June. Sometimes I go to Latin America. Sometimes I even go to Japan to see players. My job covers a wide spectrum and variety of things. I could also be asked to see an injured player who is trying to come back in a workout. It could be just about anything.”

The rewards, both tangible and intangible, have been plentiful for Wetzel. He was a member of the scouting staffs for the 1985 World Series champion Royals and the 2007 National League champion Rockies. He’s also won numerous awards and has been honored at Hall of Fame ceremonies beyond 800 North Columbia Avenue.

During a phone interview, Wetzel never once mentioned any of these personal accolades, but he did speak frequently about relationships like the ones he forged with “Bullfrog” teammates during an era when Concordia sparkled as one of the top swim programs in the NAIA and all of the Midwest, guided by coaches Jim Landon and John Seevers. Wetzel talks of having the fortune of working for great organizations with quality people and owners. He mentions former Royals owner Ewing Kauffman as an important influence.

As an area scout who covered the entire state of Texas as well as Mexico in his early scouting days, Wetzel’s existence has been about the people. An essential part of scouting is about finding the right people.

Said Wetzel, “I’ve developed tremendous friendships and relationships with people in all areas of life. It’s just amazing. That’s the biggest thing. You look back at how fast 35 years have gone by. Wow. You think back to all the people and different friendships that you have.”

The importance of friendships and relationships keeps coming up with Wetzel. The ones he’s maintained with his former Concordia teammates, coaches, professors and classmates likely had something to do with his decision to return in October 2015. He toured the campus and came away impressed with the athletic facilities. No matter where his travels take him, Wetzel carries pride in his status as a Concordia alum and a member of those Hall of Fame swim teams.

“I’m very proud to have been able to swim with those guys and have those friendships,” Wetzel said. “Some of them have gone on to be pastors, teachers and coaches and to hold district offices. A lot of really successful people were on those teams.”

Only one of those team members can say, “I’m Terry Wetzel, Special Assistant to the President of Baseball Operations & General Manager of the Washington Nationals.”