On a Friday in late February, in the opener of a three-game set at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Cal Lutheran baseball coach Marty Slimak tweaked his lineup.
The 24th-year coach was looking to jumpstart the Kingsmen after a 3-3 start, and he shifted junior Max Weinstein from the middle of the order into the leadoff spot.
The Canyon High graduate went 0-for-3. The Kingsmen lost. But the move stuck.
Thirty-seven wins later, Weinstein led his team with 84 hits, and the Kingsmen stood atop NCAA Division 3 baseball, owners of the first national championship in program history.
Cal Lutheran beat Washington & Jefferson College of Pennsylvania on Tuesday in the rubber game of a best-of-three championship series in Appleton, Wisconsin. Weinstein, a second baseman, had two hits in the clincher.
“Max was the catalyst that made our offense go,” Slimak told The Signal via email Wednesday.
In other words: Weinstein provided instant offense, even if he didn’t instantly produce at CLU after transferring from UC Irvine.
Weinstein, a two-way player since his days at Canyon, partially tore his ulnar collateral ligament while pitching early in the Kingsmen’s 2016 season.
The tear wasn’t immediately recognized, he said, so he continued hitting for a few weeks until it was diagnosed.
— Kingsmen Baseball (@CLUBaseball) May 30, 2017
His season ended with 18 at-bats under his belt. But the work was just beginning.
“I worked my tail off to get myself healthy and come back as strong as I could for a breakthrough season to make my mark as a college position player,” Weinstein said.
He rehabbed the rest of 2016 and worked himself into shape to play summer ball for the Conejo Oaks in the California Collegiate League where he made the all-star game and hit .294 in 136 at-bats.
“That gave me the confidence I needed for a successful season at CLU,” he said.
Weinstein led the Kingsmen this year in hits (84), home runs (five) and runs scored (41). He went 6-for-15 in Cal Lutheran’s best-of-three championship series Monday and Tuesday against Washington & Jefferson.
The Kingsmen dropped the opener 12-2 on Monday, but swept a double-header Tuesday, 12-4 and 7-3.
Weinstein completely lost his voice in the process, needing to conduct an interview Wednesday over text message.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Weinstein said. “I don’t feel like it has truly sunk in yet. But in the moment we won, I was beyond ecstatic.”
It wasn’t Weinstein’s first title. At Canyon in 2013, he led the Cowboys to their first Foothill League title since 2002.
He posted a .438 average at the plate and a 2.49 ERA in 70 1/3 innings on the mound en route to Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year honors.
Former Canyon coach Adam Schulhofer said Wednesday he wasn’t surprised that Weinstein excelled at Cal Lutheran this year.
“He just needed a chance to play — to be healthy and play,” Schulhofer said. “I know that he got in the weight room and was probably healthier than ever at this point. He’s such a hard worker and a solid kid. He just needed a chance to get back in the lineup every day.”
As a freshman at Irvine in 2014, Weinstein didn’t record an at-bat and threw 2 2/3 innings for a team that advanced to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.
He redshirted for what would have been his sophomore season, then transferred.
“I decided to transfer over because I was ultimately not happy at UCI,” Weinstein said. “I went in hoping to play both the field and pitch, but Irvine needed pitchers more than fielders, so I ended up becoming a pitcher only.”
Naturally, Weinstein turned to the first school to recruit him as a two-way player, Cal Lutheran.
“I felt it would be a good place for a fresh start to my college baseball career,” Weinstein said.