Dan Wetzel:

Big League Stew

Meet Walter White, the baseball coach teaching a small college team about ‘Breaking Good’

Mike Oz
Big League Stew

(CSU Monterey Bay Athletics)

If you believe that the universe balances itself out, even in fiction vs. reality, then it makes sense that there's a good Walter White out there. We know the bad one. He's the central character in AMC's celebrated TV drama, "Breaking Bad," which ends its five-season run Sunday night.

That Walter White? Well, he's a complicated dude. He's a high-school chemistry teacher who "breaks bad" when he's diagnosed with terminal cancer. He becomes a meth kingpin, first because he wants to provide for his family once he's gone, but over time he needs his sinister Heisenberg alter ego to validate himself as much as he needed the money for his wife and kids. Some people root for Walt. Some people want him dead.

In Monterey, Calif., there's another Walter White. People who follow the California State University, Monterey Bay baseball team, the Otters, only root for him. He's brought the program to life. In White's three years as head coach, the team has been "Breaking Good" — turning around from a 8-41 season in 2010, and becoming the champions of the Division-II California Collegiate Athletic Association in 2013.

"The other Walter White was going through a transformation," says Walter White, the baseball coach. "And so were we."

Baseball's Walt White — he looks and sounds more like Hank Schrader than TV's Walter White — spent eight seasons in the minor leagues after being drafted in 34th round in 1994 by the Florida Marlins. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in 1998 for Reid Cornelius, and made it as high as Triple-A before retiring in 2001. The end of his playing days could have been a "Breaking Bad" moment, but instead White shifted his focus to coaching.

With "Breaking Bad" ending, the other Walter White chatted with Big League Stew about his team "Breaking Good," how his TV counterpart has made him practically unGoogleable, what it's like sharing a name with a meth dealer and being mistaken for yet another W.W. And not Walt Whitman, but former Rookie of the Year shortstop and current Colorado Rockies manager Walt Weiss. (Trivia: "Weiss" actually means "White" in German too).

Mike Oz: So, first things first, please verify that you are not an ex-meth kingpin who has now re-invented itself as a college baseball coach.

Walter White: Correct. I think the only other Walter White that was around before was my dad.

MO: At what point did you realize there was a meth-cooking maniac on TV who shared your name? And what kind of reaction do you get from people?

WW: The reaction I get a lot is from people who don't know me, when I go into use my credit card, every time, people ask me: 'You must get this all the time … How do you feel?' I've always just kind of played along with it. This has probably been five years running. I get the questions more now than I did two or three years ago. I get it quite often, two or three times a week. Our players and a lot of our coaches, they rave about the show.

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MO: Has the Walter White name made it onto the field for any interesting trash talk/intimidation?

WW: Umm, no. I haven't seen any of that. One funny story: I had an incoming freshman, he was going to be a walk-on. I had never met his parents. I was sitting in a restaurant the day before school started. They saw me. Out of the blue, his dad goes, 'Walter White, Breaking Bad, so good to see you.' I'm thinking, this is the kid's dad that I'm going to coach.

MO: Do your players joke about it? Like "Geez, coach, don't throw us in a barrel of acid if we make an error."

WW: [Laughs] I got to tell you, from all the talk and everything people say, I'm looking forward to watching some of this show.

MO: Wait, you've never seen it?

WW: I've never seen an episode. I've seen commercials. I know the actor who plays him. In the last year or so, it's been more prevalent. People ask me about it, my coaches, our players. It's getting to the point where I think now, when I get to December, when I get a little break, I'll watch all the episodes. I'll probably do it in one take, over Christmas vacation. You’re probably giving me a little too much information right now.

MO: I didn't spoil anything major. You'll be fine. Do you think when you watch it, it will ruin you own name for you?

WW: You know, it might. It's funny though, because I think there's mixed reactions. I get it from you that he's a horrible person, but I get it from other people that the guy's "the man." I don't expect it to mess up my name. Six or seven years ago if you Googled Walter White, you'd come up with my minor league stats or where I was coaching. But now you'll have to go through some pages before you get to that.

MO: So, some goofy baseball meets "Breaking Bad" questions: Who has the baddest breaking ball you've ever seen? Bad meaning good.

WW: I'll tell you what, there are some good ones. I faced Dave Stieb when he was making his comeback. He had a phenomenal slider. Todd Stottlemyre had an unbelievable slider. Rick Ankiel, his breaking ball was as sharp or as good as anybody's. Look at [Adam] Wainwright. His breaking ball is unbelievable. We have a kid on my named Jeff Owen. His breaking ball is unbelievable. He'll probably be a pre-season Division-II All-American.

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(AMC / CSU Monterey Athletics)

MO: Would you ever consider managing a game wearing a black pork pie hat like when Walt goes into Heisenberg mode?

WW: [Laughs]. Yeah, if your team is really good, you can wear anything. I've always said I want to be so good so I can coach my team from a phone booth in Hawaii. If we're really good, I'll wear a feathered boa out there. I don't care.

MO: Speaking of Heisenberg: If one of your coaches came to you and there was a new recruit named Heisenberg who had signed with CSUMB, just off his name alone, what would you think of him as a player? Sounds good, right?

WW: Yeah, I'm all for it. You need guys with skill, but you need guys with a tough attitude who aren't afraid to play, who aren't afraid of getting their hands dirty. If this guy is going into Heisenberg mode, he sounds like a tough animal. I try to tell our guys to be nice and treat people the way you want to be treated. But I don't want a bunch of nice guys when the lights are on. I want a bunch of guys who are ready to kick some dirt in your eye. I'm going to start looking for Heisenbergs on my recurrent list.

MO: In “Breaking Bad,” one of the characteristics that pushes the plot forward is Walter White's need to always prove himself to others. As a coach of a young team in a small conference, is that something you can relate to?

WW: No doubt about it. Every day I feel like I need to prove myself. The baseball program has been going for eight seasons. I took over the program three years ago. It was my first head-coaching job. I played for a long time. I was an assistant coach for a long time. The year before I got here, they were 8-41. Taking over this program was a challenge. If you're a competitor, you want to prove things all the time.

MO: So you're like 'Breaking Good?'

WW: Well, we broke the bad streak, I'll tell you that. We took a team that was 8-41, then the next year we were 21-28, the next year we had the first winning season in program history, and last year we won a conference championship and finished 39-17.

I don't know exactly how the other Walter White started, but he's five years in and people still like that character. From a TV standpoint, he's doing pretty darn good.

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(CSU Monterey Bay athletics)

MO: So when we emailed each other, you told me in baseball circles people have confused you for another WW — Walt Weiss. Let's hear the story.

WW: It was my first year of pro ball with the Marlins and I'm in the New York-Penn League. Walt Weiss was the Marlins opening day shortstop. I was in Watertown, NY, and all game I'm playing shortstop. I was the No. 9 hitter — I wasn't an overly offense player. There's a group of about five guys, they're cheering for me all game: 'Walt, we love you. You're our favorite player.'

Then finally the game ends. In Watertown when you leave the dugout, you have to walk through the concourse to get to the clubhouse. One of those guys stops me and says 'Walt you're the man. It's my buddy's 50th birthday. Will you sign this ball for him? Dear John, Happy 50th Birthday, Walt Weiss.’

I say, 'Hey, buddy, I'm really sorry to burst your bubble, but I'm Walt White not Walt Weiss.' He says, 'Ahh, [expletive]. Well, he's been drinking all game, he wouldn't know the difference. Will you just sign it for him anyway?' I say 'Sure, here you go.' That doesn't get me in trouble does it?

MO: No. I think you're OK.

WW: That would put me close to the other Walter White.

MO: That's a great case of mistaken identity, though.

WW: I'd much rather be mistaken for Walt Weiss than some meth dealer.

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