Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.Don Welke was one of those rare men who created smiles the second he walked into a room.And you didn't call him Don. He was Coach . . . to friends, baseball executives throughout the game and
Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.
Don Welke was one of those rare men who created smiles the second he walked into a room.
And you didn't call him Don. He was Coach . . . to friends, baseball executives throughout the game and the thousands of players he scouted over his 50-plus years in the game.
Welke had an eye for talent and a gift for telling stories. Pairing the two skills made him a popular guest at any table where baseball types gathered.
Baseball, the San Diego Padres and I lost a good friend Tuesday night when Don Welke peacefully passed away two days shy of his 76th birthday.
"Don had a tremendous career in baseball, both as a talent evaluator and in the relationships that he built," Padres General Manager A.J. Preller said Thursday morning. "He was a visionary who knew and loved baseball, and he shared that knowledge and passion with me and countless other scouts throughout his five decades in the game."
"Beyond his accomplishments, Don was a loyal and generous friend. Everyone whose lives he touched were better for having known him."
Preller has brought considerable talent to the Padres organization as the general manager. In my mind, few of his acquisitions were better than signing Welke as the Padres' Vice President of Scouting Operations just 13 days after becoming the G.M.
Before both came to the Padres, Preller and Welke had spent eight seasons working together for the Texas Rangers. Welke loved talking about his adventures with Preller when they scouted Latin America as a team.
Several years ago, when discussing Welke, Preller said: "He has an eye for a prospect beyond the talent you see on the field."
Among the players Welke scouted for the Rangers are Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus and Martin Perez. Preller was right there with Welke on the road.
During his long career, Welke worked for the Dodgers, the Reds, the Phillies, the Orioles, the Blue Jays and the Royals in addition to the Rangers and Padres. Among his many awards was the Legends of Scouting Award he received in 2011 from the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation. He also won the inaugural Rangers Scout of the Year Award.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed my times with Don Welke. Over the past four spring trainings, we'd occasionally head out to the back fields together to watch minor leaguers. He could discuss every player acquired by the Padres since he came aboard. And most of them would search out Welke during breaks.
Don played a major role in what the Padres did on the international market in 2016. He knew who to look for and where to find them - whether it be the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico . . . even Colombia and Panama.
"I love being on the road, Old Man."
"Old Man" is what Don Welke liked calling me. And I feel a bit older today having lost this good friend.
I jokingly once told Coach that the biggest threat to any Padres prospect on the backfields was him driving his golf cart around the connecting paths each spring at the Padres spring training complex in Peoria, Ariz.
Loved the man. But he couldn't drive a golf cart. He had no idea where to position the lever for reverse and forward. And he was always looking to one side or another and seldom ahead. And as for the keys, I'd see him put the keys in his pocket and two minutes later they'd be lost.
I felt much safer the past couple of seasons when Michaelene Courtis drove the cart whenever possible.
I loved talking baseball with Welke. He knew the game. He knew talent. Long before Franmil Reyes was on anyone's watch list, Coach told me: "Forget the size, it's a short swing and he's smart and selective. He will hit in the Major Leagues."
Don Welke loved baseball. He loved ballplayers. He loved watching young players develop. And he could look inside talent to see the person. I loved talking with the man. I will miss him. The Padres will miss him. Baseball will miss him.
Padres Executive Chairman Ron Fowler and General Partner Peter Seidler summed it up in a joint statement Thursday:
"We are extremely saddened by the passing of our dear friend Don Welke. He was a legend in the baseball world and an invaluable member of the Padres front office. Don was a super scout and a super guy, and we will miss him greatly."
RIP Coach. u9:p