“A lot of guys, they're really emotional,” Stankiewicz said. “They used to be really, really successful. Then you get to the pro game, and it's a little bit different. You're competing against really good players, and the success isn't there right away.”
Weeden had success.
He also had failure.
“But he was just always composed,” Stankiewicz said. “It was a great demeanor for a pitcher.
“He was just going to work.”
And Weeden didn't carry the baggage that high draft picks sometimes bring with them. Some guys buy the jewelry and the cars. Some bring the attitude and the swagger.
“I don't think anybody ever felt like, ‘Man, this guy's got a big head,'” said Stankiewicz, now the baseball coach at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. “He came from an environment where he was probably raised pretty well. He was a pleasure to work with, always worked hard, kept quiet and went about his business.
“I think if he would've stuck with it, eventually ... ”
He thought Brandon Weeden was bound for the big leagues.
* * *
Everything in Weeden's career seemed to be on the up and up.
Even when the Yankees sent him to the Dodgers as part of the Kevin Brown trade after the 2003 season, it was a nod to Weeden's potential. New York needed an ace — and fast — after losing Andy Pettitte to free agency, so they acquired Brown for a couple no-names and Weeden.
He landed in Columbus, Ga., with the Class A Catfish.
“He was good,” said Zach Hammes, Weeden's teammate and roommate in Columbus. “He had good stuff. He had a very good curveball. He was very talented.”
But those next few seasons were unlike anything Weeden had experienced before. All of a sudden, he had teammates and opponents who were older. Some had wives. A few had kids.
Baseball started to seem more like a job.
“When you're playing rookie ball and you're 18,” Weeden said, “it's more like you're at camp.”
He appeared in 11 games his first season in the minors and in 12 games his second season. But in his first season in Columbus, Weeden started more games than those first two seasons combined.
In 27 starts, he went 7-9 with a 5.39 ERA.
Despite Weeden's so-so record, Hammes never saw his confidence waver.
“When we got drafted, we really didn't know what we were getting into,” said Hammes, a big, tall righty. “You don't know there are all these levels of baseball, and there's all this multiyear development.
“You think you're just going to have fun.”
And for several years, it was fun for Weeden.
Then after the 2005 season, he was traded to the Royals. His only season with the organization was spent with the Class-A High Desert Mavericks, and it was a slog. He appeared in 32 games, but 28 of those appearances were in relief. Even though he went 6-5, his ERA ballooned to 6.03.
Worse, his shoulder was giving him problems.
“I was not having fun,” Weeden said, “so I brought a football to the field every day.”
One of his teammates had played football at Dartmouth, and they threw the ball around the outfield. They ran routes. They had some laughs. But for Weeden, it was more than a way to pass the time on days he wasn't pitching.
It was an escape.
He wanted out of baseball.
* * *
Eric Hacker remembers getting that surprise call after the 2006 season from Weeden.
They'd kept touch after their two seasons in Tampa, texting or calling or even making visits to Hacker's home in Texas or Weeden's in Oklahoma to visit each other, but still, Hacker wasn't prepared for Weeden's news.
“I'm done with baseball,” he told his friend, “and I'm enrolling in Oklahoma State and going to walk on the football team.”
“Man, good luck,” Hacker said. “I hope it all works out.”
Safe to say, it has.
Weeden still hears from baseball buddies regularly. They wish him luck. They tell him they'll be watching. And then some of them say what he has said time and again.
“Who would've thought this?” Weeden said.
It is a far-fetched story, the minor league baseball player becoming the big-time college quarterback. Who would've believed the guy chasing a major league roster spot would one day take a football program to never-before-seen heights? Who would've thought that crazy talk about being the next patron saint of baseball-players-turned-football-saviors would actually come true?
Then again, sometimes daydreams become realities.
“He's got an education. He's married to a wonderful woman. He's living a great life,” Hacker said. “And it looks like his future is bright in football.
“I don't think he's looking back.”
Out of nowhere
No quarterback has impacted Oklahoma State football like Brandon Weeden, leading the Cowboys to their first 11-win season a year ago, only to repeat the feat with a chance at reaching 12 this year.
That's at stake when OSU plays Stanford in the Jan. 2 Fiesta Bowl — the school's first BCS bowl.
And to think, Weeden's path to this point seemingly came out of nowhere, from third-team quarterback in 2009 to possible first-round NFL draft pick.
This is the first in a three-part series of Weeden's journey:
The Santa Fe Years. Weeden emerged out of nowhere as a high school athlete, too, with a growth spurt paving the way for him to play football and eventually become a two-sport star at Edmond Santa Fe.
The Minor League Years. The mature, competitive winner that Cowboy fans know and love? Baseball types knew that side of Brandon Weeden long ago. They just always thought it would take him to the big leagues, not to the heights of college football.
The OSU Years. After baseball did not work out, Weeden decided to go back to school. Five years later, the former walk-on has his degree. He's OSU's all-time leading passer. And he's one of the most recognizable figures in Stillwater. What's it like to be the big man on campus?