COLUMN: Neil Walker, the Pirates’ Pittsburgh kid
/* Style Definitions */
mso-fareast-“Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-“Times New Roman”;}
Neil Walker is the “Pixburgh Kid” — imagine that.
Since his recall on May 25, Walker has ranked toward the top amongst all Major League rookies in hits, batting average and runs scored. Also, as of the end of the most recent Pirates home stand against the San Diego Padres, he’s smacked 15 doubles.
Not to mention in the prior series against Milwaukee, he registered an impressive 5-for-5 night in an 11-9 victory, becoming the first Pirates rookie to do so since John Wehner did it 19 years ago.
“It has been a dream come true,” said Walker. “Everyone from my mom’s side of the family is from here, and I’ve grown up following the team and watching all that has happened. I’m just ready to help the team get to where it needs to be, and I look forward to giving that my all.”
But it hasn’t been such an easy road.
It all began when a young Walker traveled south down Route 8 to get to PNC Park, not just as some random observer, but as the star catcher of the Pine-Richland Rams baseball team wjp je helped to a WPIAL class AAA title in 2004.
He’d then find out that he was drafted by his hometown team that summer as their first-round choice (11th overall) and would be suiting up for the Gulf Coast League Pirates on June 25 of that year.
From there, it was a long rise for Walker’s itinerant baseball career. First, he made a stop in Williamsport, headed to Hickory, onto Lynchburg, all before heading up north to Altoona — where he’d be named an Eastern League All-star in 2007.
Oh and don’t forget Indianapolis, where he’d would await his chance for two seasons to back up ‘seasoned veteran’ Andy LaRoche at third base — you know, the guy that the club gave up so much for?
Yeah, let’s not forget. To get Andy LaRoche, we gave up Jason Bay — the man who so graciously represented our city as the starting left-fielder in the 2006 All-Star Game.
And I can’t forget that other obstacle. The club picked up the biggest stud they could get their hands on in the 2008 draft (Pedro Alvarez), a third baseman, mind you, and boy did he advance through the ranks in a hurry.
At that point, Walker’s options looked slim. It’s bad enough that the organization already converted him from his natural position of catcher to play third.
It didn’t look as if his career was going as planned.
Hold up a minute … that Iwamura guy that the team acquired from the Rays over the winter hadn’t been doing so well, and as a matter of fact, he became a real bust!
A solution looked to be on the horizon. Only thing is, Walker had to play second base, a position that he’d virtually never played on any level.
In reality, Walker obviously doesn’t have the same outlook on certain situations as I do. In fact, it’s been the complete opposite.
“I’m really just happy to be here,” said Walker. “It’s been a six year process to get to this point. It was a shock and an honor to learn that I’d been drafted by the Pirates. Now that the opportunity’s finally here, I just want to make the best of it.”
From that statement, it doesn’t look like Walker has let his slow climb bring him down.
(Malik Vincent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)