Alumni: Weitzel and Dry, from Salamanca to Oilers’ dugout
John Dry and Jay Weitzel go back a long time.
Weitzel officially took the Olean Oilers’ head coaching job in March following Bobby Bell’s decision to join a team in New England (Keene Swamp Bats). He had several ties to the team already, including his son Jerico’s work as an assistant coach and his brother, Brad, who has sent players to Olean for the summer from the University of Florida, where he is in his 10th year as an assistant coach. Plus, Weitzel already had an old high school pal on staff in Dry, returning this spring for his fifth year as an Oiler assistant.
“I was three years older than (Dry),” Weitzel said of his fellow Salamancan. “He was a young athlete coming up at Salamanca and you hear about that stuff back then, you policed yourselves and sort of picked on those kids but you watched out for them too. It was like an older brother type of thing. His dad was a real good ballplayer and I knew the whole Dry family.
“It was basically through baseball, when he was a young freshman on varsity and I was a senior. I had been through some arm problems and had to play first and he played third. But he could always hit. That's the thing about him.”
They stayed pals as both went to Canisius College, Weitzel playing football and Dry baseball. Then they’d run into each other in fast-pitch softball, a sport Dry has excelled at for decades earning him a spot in the Western New York Softball Hall of Fame last year. Now the two coaches from Salamanca are tasked with guiding the Oilers through the New York Collegiate Baseball League summer season seeking a third consecutive league title with a much less experienced roster.
Weitzel points to his 17-year tenure as a Major League scout for the Minnesota Twins and says as a coach he can help draft candidates improve their games.
But there's more to their lives, and more to a coach-player relationship, than baseball.
“Usually it's a physical thing. Players that are going to be big-league players pass the eye test pretty easy,” Weitzel said. “It's sort of evaluating them, putting them in a right place to succeed.
“These kids all have a dream of playing pro ball, which is fine, but get that education. I will help four or five of these kids in what they do outside of baseball, outside of their life, guaranteed. The kids at Salamanca I coached in football, (I’m) still an influence in their life. They really respected what I did and those kids really gave me their guts back then.”
Dry and Weitzel haven't officially delineated positional coaching duties, feeling comfortable with pitching, hitting, fielding. But Dry said he'll take on more pitching work to replace some of the time Bell put in with the Olean arms.
Jerico Weitzel is still around the team when he can be, too, including Wednesday’s media day practice. But he's spending more time with his family with a young child and with the Northeast Twins, a multi-level club with travel teams from Western/Central New York and Northern Pennsylvania his dad had previously run. The Northeast Twins have sent nine players to the Oilers, including six on the 2017 roster.
“He's good with the kids because he's their age,” Jay said of his son. “He knows how it's played and he's dealt with kids their age. I've been dealing with kids that have been pro kids and not at the coaching level.”
Both Dry and Weitzel know won’t compare the 2017 Oilers with the ‘16 squad, four returning players aside.
“Last year's team will probably be one of the best teams to ever play in the NYCBL,” Dry said. “So it's very hard to sit there and try to compare that team to this year's team. Our team's more like the team two years ago where they started out slow and found their way and finally we made a run at the end of the season and ended up doing really well. I'm thinking that’s the way the team is going to be this year as far as everybody's going to have to learn what their roles are. Last year it was pretty much spelled out.”