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Q&A with alum Terry Wetzel, Washington Nationals executive

By Jacob Knabel on May. 20, 2020 in Baseball

A Concordia University, Nebraska graduate, Terry Wetzel is in his 37th season working in Major League Baseball. In his current role, Wetzel serves as Special Assistant to the General Manager of the Washington Nationals. In his executive position, Wetzel helped the Nationals capture the 2019 World Series championship. He has also worked within the Kansas City Royals and Colorado Rockies organizations.

Wetzel was a member of the 1977-78/1978-79 Concordia swim teams that were inducted into the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015. A native of Grand Island, Neb., Wetzel was also inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame in 2018. The savvy baseball mind answered our questions on Wednesday (March 20) for this Q&A. We also featured Wetzel in a piece from March 2018 that can be found HERE.

Wetzel, who lives in the Kansas City area, had just finished up a spring training scouting trip in Arizona this March when the coronavirus pandemic shut down Major League Baseball.

Q&A with Terry Wetzel

Just how strange is it right now inside a Major League Baseball front office at a time when you would normally be almost two months into the season?

It’s been very strange. It’s nothing you could have ever dreamed could happen. Obviously it’s a tragic time when we’re experiencing a pandemic. You feel for the people who have suffered through the coronavirus. It’s devastating. We read about what happened years and years ago with the Spanish Flu, but to actually be living during it is a kind of a surreal nightmare. It’s hard to comprehend. We’re creatures of habit. We get into our routine during the season and now it’s really turned upside-down.

How much has this whole situation affected your whole job?

What we’ve been doing now is a lot of Zoom meetings. We are going over each and every organization and trying to make sure that we have our players categorized and ranked properly. We’re doing an in-depth analysis with that. That’s basically about all you can do. You can do video stuff with past games, but obviously nothing is going on right now. That’s where we’re at. We’re making the best out of what we can do right now. We’re putting everything in place for if and when we can get ready to play again.

Are you involved in any of the discussions about bringing baseball back again?

That’s all the commissioner’s office and the players’ union. We really don’t have any say in that. It’s whatever the commissioner’s office decides and can agree on with the players’ union. We’ll just follow in line. Right now there are strict guidelines with facilities. They’re starting to loosen them up where they can go into different facilities to work out. There can only be a certain amount of players at a time. They can hit and throw off the mound, but they’ve been pretty strict about keeping people away.

What are your responsibilities related to the upcoming draft in June?

I don’t have any responsibilities with the draft this year. Before I would help with our draft board and putting that together. I saw a lot of players last summer and wrote reports on them. They’ll use some of my summer reports of the top guys. The way we’re doing it now nobody can go and meet. Everything is virtual. Our draft headquarters will probably be at our general manager’s home in Washington, D.C. Our scouting directors and other amateur scouts will be connected through Zoom or Google Hangout or something. We’ll have our board set up and as the draft goes we’ll be ready to pick. The general manager Mike Rizzo will be the one that makes that decision who we select.

Going back to last year, the Nationals won game 7 of the World Series in Houston. Did you have the opportunity to be there for that?

I was at all the games that were in D.C. I was at games 3, 4 and 5, but I didn’t go to Houston. They had us come in for the games at home. It was a really bizarre World Series where the visiting team won every game, which has never happened before.

What was most memorable for you about that whole experience?

We were 19-31 at one point last year. To be able to persevere and stay within ourselves and make the playoffs, let alone get to the World Series, was just an unbelievable experience. It’s hard to think that when you were 19-31 that you had any chance to get there. There were some rumblings about making several changes and everything else. We didn’t and slowly started playing a little bit better and then got real hot there towards the end. Once we got to the playoffs played real well.

You haven’t had a chance to get your ring yet have you?

They’re having a virtual ring ceremony on Sunday and the players will get theirs in the mail and then there will be like a Zoom party. It will be televised through the NESN Network and the Washington Nationals Facebook and YouTube channel. Probably next week at some point we’ll get our rings. It’ll be exciting to get it even though it’s a bit of a different circumstance. It doesn’t happen very often.

Your role doesn’t put you in front of the media so you maybe don’t get the credit when you win a World Series like this, but what do you find rewarding about your job?

It’s just being a part of an organization that really values scouting and player development, as well as analytics. We kind of merged everything together. We’re not necessarily one way or the other. We really value scouting and a strong player development department and also we have one of the strongest analytic departments in baseball. We have a great group of players that came together. It was really rewarding to be a small part of that whole picture and process. The one quote Davey Martinez our manager had was, “You have to go through a lot of bumpy roads to get to beautiful places.” That pretty much sums up what we went through the past year.

After winning a World Series, what’s next and what do you hope to accomplish yet in your career?

I would love to win another one. That’s the No. 1 goal to be part of an organization that can win more than one. That would be something. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to be in the game 37 years now. There are going to be a lot of changes in scouting and player development. There will probably be more cutbacks and who knows how the economy is going to affect all this. I’m just going to pray I can hang in there as long as I can. There will be a lot of really good employees looking for positions going forward, not just in baseball but a lot of areas. The next couple years will be a challenge, that’s for sure.

The Grand Island Independent had a story on you after the World Series. Do you ever get much chance to come back to your hometown of Grand Island?

Not too much anymore. Both of my parents have passed away. I have an aunt and uncle that live in Grand Island. I’m still very close to them. I still have relatives and friends that live there, but I haven’t been back for a while. My sister lives in Lincoln. She works for the University of Nebraska so I do get to Lincoln once in a while.

You were back on campus for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2015. What struck you most about seeing the campus quite a few years after your graduation?

I was fortunate enough to be on a team that went to the Hall of Fame. I was very impressed with Concordia’s facilities and the way they’ve upgraded. They’ve done a really nice job. I hope they continue to keep adding to the facilities. I’d like to see them get a nice baseball and softball field. That would be great. I know there are some plans.

The football stadium is really nice. The weight room has come a long ways. When I was there I was part of the C-club and every year we would donate to buy a piece of equipment for the weight room. Back then it was all novelist weight lifting stuff. We had it fixed up about as well as we could, but it was a slow and steady process to get the different pieces of equipment. Now it’s all the new stuff. It looks good.

We discussed this a couple years ago, but fill us in again on how you went from graduating from Concordia to working in Major League Baseball?

It’s a long process. It definitely wasn’t a goal. It just kind of happened. I left Concordia and then my first year of teaching was in Cleveland, Ohio. At Concordia I started on a master’s degree and after I got to Cleveland I decided to go to Valparaiso to finish my master’s. I did that the next year and I went full-time. Then I got a teaching-coaching position in Texas. I was at one of the Lutheran high schools and I kind of got recruited by one of the public schools to go there. I was coaching football and baseball at the time. One of the Royals scouts asked me to be a part-time scout since I lived in the Houston area. There were a lot of top players in Houston. Living in Houston, Texas, and was involved in baseball – and it didn’t hurt being involved in football. Down there in Texas everybody plays football and baseball it seems like. I knew a lot of the top players and got started as a part-time scout with the Royals. I took over as an area supervisor and moved to cross-checker, scouting director and I’ve been an assistant to the general manager with Colorado and Washington. I’ve been in an executive role since ’96. I cover everything from amateur players to Major Leaguers to minor leaguers to international players. I go to Japan every once in a while. It’s always a process when a player is acquired by a club, whether it’s through the draft, a trade or a free agent acquisition. There’s always several people behind the scenes that are involved. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a lot of those with three very good organizations. I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have gotten into it. You never know what might happen.

You have to have patience. It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to grind through everything and be willing to listen and learn and to be a student of the game. You have to stay up with the game and stay certified with some of the new technology and terminology. Don’t be set in one way. Always be willing to learn. The day you think you know it all is the day you start regressing.

Miscellaneous items

·        On Coach Ryan Dupic: “From the area amateur scouts that I’ve talked to, they speak very highly of Ryan Dupic. They’ve said he’s done a great job.”

·        “(Alum) Gordon Bredow was a real good athlete and a very good friend. We taught together in Houston and Coach Bredow was real close to Coach Courtney Meyer so whenever he would come to Houston we would go out and have dinner.” Wetzel also went on to mention a family connection to the Savings. Kari Saving played basketball at Concordia and is a member of the Concordia Athletic Hall of Fame.

·        “I follow Concordia every day. I think it’s unbelievable how far they’ve come with the social media on Twitter. They do a tremendous job. It’s entertaining watching what they’ve done the last couple years. They’re up there with a lot of Division I teams. They have really been creative with some of those things like what the girls’ basketball team does and the boys. They’ve done a real nice job.”

·        “I have two kids and I’ve tried to push them both (to Concordia) but they wanted to do their own thing.” Terry and his wife Patricia have a daughter Jenna and son Ryan. Ryan Wetzel currently attends Baker University in Kansas and is a member of the baseball team. Concordia and Baker played each other in a doubleheader back on March 3.