Former MLB player grateful for faith-based education


Former Major League Baseball pitcher Don Wengert laughed out loud when asked how much time he spent in Room 318 at Bishop Heelan Catholic High School in Sioux City.WengertPodium5-18

“Not much, not very much,” he said in reference to where students typically spend detention.

“But I did, and I did get it out of my system … eventually,” the 1988 graduate admitted.

Wengert, who resides in Des Moines, was invited to deliver an alumni message to graduating seniors at the annual Senior Breakfast, May 9, at the school’s Fine Arts Building.

According to Tom Betz, director of advancement at Heelan, the school began inviting alums back to speak at the annual Senior Breakfast about five years ago.

“As the youngest in a family of 10, all of whom went to Heelan, Don played quarterback in football and pitcher in baseball at Heelan and then went on to play in the majors for 11 years,” he said. “It seemed a natural to invite Don to speak to the seniors.”WengertChirsBork5-18

“It was important for me to come back,” Wengert said. “This school has made an imprint on my life and helped me out through my career and my life.”

Wengert emphasized the importance of his faith-based education that has helped him through “good times and bad times.”

“You may not recognize its importance right now, but you will,” he said to the seniors. “You’ve made a choice to attend a Catholic school and it will be a great choice, you will find out.”

Humility was a virtue Wengert learned both at Heelan and at home.

WengertSelfie5-18“The significance of ‘PRIDE’ on the back of the jerseys is that the other schools we played had their individual players’ names on the back of their jerseys,” he said. “We did not. No one individual on the team was bigger than the team.”

Wengert continued, “When I learned my senior year that I was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, my dad (the late William Wengert) said, ‘Your mother and I discussed this and no one outside of this house will know about this.’ He didn’t want me to brag about it, or get cocky, or think I was better than anyone else or have some type of a target on my back that opposing teams would notice.”

Instead of accepting that draft offer, Wengert continued his baseball career at Iowa State University in Ames, where he was a four-year starter and letter winner.

“The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I was worried that I would not graduate in May of 1992 because I had taken the minimum number of hours ‘before’ my senior year,” he said. “My mom told me to ‘buckle down’ and get through it, so I had to take 21 credits my fall and spring semester of my senior year to graduate in May of 1992. She knew the importance of getting my degree THAT year.”

Wengert insisted that one decision to “buckle down” impacted his future, allowing him to be successful for the past 14 years as a sales representative for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in Des Moines.

“The significance of that decision and having my degree was that I was able to focus 100 percent on baseball and make the transition easier into the workforce when I retired from baseball,” he said.

Wengert was drafted in the fourth round of the 1992 major league baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics. Wengert appeared in 160 games during his pro career from 1995 to 2001, for the A’s, San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates. He pitched the entire 2002 season with Boston’s Class AAA Pawtucket, R.I., farm team before retiring from baseball in 2003.

Wengert credited his mother, Sheila, who still resides in Sioux City, with having the greatest influence on his faith.

“I can’t tell you how many times Mom would say, ‘Offer it up for the honor and glory of God,’” he said. “From being an altar boy at Immaculate Conception Church in Sioux City to praying the rosary on Sunday nights during Lent, my parents always talked about the importance of our faith.”

“I’m very proud of him,” said Sheila Wengert, who also attended the Senior Breakfast. “The school gave him dedication and discipline, but it’s so clear to me how important it is to have your faith.”

Wengert emphasized how his faith truly came to the forefront when his son Robbie spent two weeks hospitalized with an intracranial bleed in December.

“Before Robbie slipped into a coma, he asked, ‘Dad, will you please pray with me?’” he said. “We did pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary. In fact, anytime Robbie would get upset about his condition, he would ask my wife, Katie, to join him in a Hail Mary.”

That faith played out at St. Augustin School, where Robbie is a student, and St. Augustin Church where the Wengerts are parishioners.

“All during Robbie’s illness and recuperation, there was a tremendous outpouring of support,” he said. “What really hit home was at the 5 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve, volunteers had set up luminaires in the shape of the letters ‘R’ and ‘W’ to show their support for Robbie.”

It was Wengert’s hope the students would never have to go through that experience.

“I am so thankful that Robbie knew to turn to God in a time of great need,” he said. “My message to the seniors is they can always turn to God when they have their own difficulties in life. We all have crosses to bear.”

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