Pittsburgh Pirate Neil Walker is a fan favorite at RumBunter. We have one favor of our readers, please keep doubting Neil Walker. When he has his breakout year, we don’t need any of you on the bandwagon.
Walker recently completed his contract with Los Bravos de Margarita in Venezuela. Rum Bunter Deportes was able to run into him at the fruit market on his way out of the country. Fortunately, he had a few minutes to answer a few quick questions for us.
RB: Neil, you look thicker or is it just all these bags you’re carrying around?
NW: -Yea I just started working out again, and I’m really looking forward to 2010, I think it will be a big year for me. Haha, welcome to the life of a ball player trying to break his way, and stay in the big leagues, the bag carrying comes with the territory.
RB: Where in the world did you sleep?
NW: We actually had a pretty decent set up when we played at home, Margarita Island. They had us staying at a resort on the ocean, about 15 minutes away from the ball park. Certainly not Nemacolin Resort, but it could have been a lot worse.
RB: You certainly finished strong hitting over .320 in your last nine games. How would you grade this year overall with the Pirates? ( Walker had 9 doubles and 4 homers for Margarita, with 16 RBI in 34 games)
NW: I don’t want to put a grade on the year, but in my eyes I made very good strides in many parts of my game. I played well defensively, offensively, I hit well and was very consistent at the end of the season. I hope to carry over the end of this year into spring training 2010, be confident and trust in my abilities. If its meant to be with Pittsburgh, it will be.
RB: Were the baseball fields in nice condition in Venezuela ? We read that you had six errors and that doesn’t sound like the NW we know and love?
NW: The stadiums in Venezuela were all pretty good, the surfaces on the other hand were not so good. When you play on surfaces like they had it makes some of the easy plays a little tougher. At times it’s like playing hockey goalie when you just want to keep it in front and make the play. But everyone there deals with the surfaces so you learn to live with it and try to know where some of the bad areas are on the infield.
RB: What was the best part of playing ball with Los Bravos de Margarita? Beside the hot chicks screaming your name from the Neil Walker Fan Club, were there large crowds at the games?
NW: My favorite thing about playing for the Bravos was the atmosphere of the games. Each and every pitch was like the playoffs. The fans were very passionate, sometimes too passionate, and on the road a little bit nasty, haha. Certain teams drew bigger crowds, the Bravos are a fairly new team so they didn’t draw as well as most of the teams in the league. But I would say on average there was 7-10,000 a game, with weekend and rivalry games getting close to 12-17,000, very exciting atmosphere.
RB: A lot of crazy things go on with the Bucs, there were stories circulating that Nate McLouth wasn’t thrilled with moving out of center field to allow Cutch to come up…etc. So we were curious if the Pirates asked you for some strange reason to move behind the plate again would you? Or to second base? Do you think this would be advantageous for the Pirates and for you personally?
NW: Well for me I want to be able to be in a Big League lineup on daily basis. I believe I am capable of doing that, whether it is as a catcher, third basemen, second basemen, or right or left fielder. It has always been a dream of mine to help the Pirates win a World Series, but I also understand the business part of this game. So all I can do is try to keep proving my worth, keep working hard and prove I can help this team win.
RB: Growing up a Pittsburgh kid, how much did your time with the Pirates this season mean to you?
NW: My time with the Buccos this year was fantastic, I got to live a dream that most athletes never get the chance to. It made me more hungry as a baseball player, and gave me a chance to work with the infield instructor, Perry Hill, as well as Don Long, the hitting coach.
RB: Can you give Pirate fans some of your personal goals for the upcoming season?
NW: My goals this year are pretty simple, help this team win. I know it sounds sort of dull, but I know I can make a difference on a big league field, and I want to help the Pirates win. I believe all the other things will take care of themselves.
RB: One more question before you catch that rickshaw, how much are you looking forward to the Pirates building a winner and what is your prediction for when the losing streak ends?
NW: Although I won’t predict for you, I can say I’m very excited about being part of this process and progress. The Pirates are moving in the right direction and being part of that is humbling, I’m going to continue to work hard and with commitment and desire from all parties of the organization, winning seasons should be right around the corner.
RB: Thanks Neil.
Walker was the AAA Indianapolis Indians MVP in 2008 with 16HR and 80RBI, for whatever reason Scott McCauley felt it should have been McCutchen’s award in this post.
He was voted the International League’s best defensive third baseman, a position we all remember, that he was moved into from his usual catching spot. How does a player move from behind the dish and just learn a new position as tough as third base in such a short time? Pure talent.
Walker led Indianapolis with 31 doubles, 69 RBI and 14 HR in 2009.
When we spoke to Walker, we got the strong feeling that he is entirely focused on proving to the Pirates he can help the Bucs win. After his injury this season it didn’t appear Walker would receive a callup in September, His hot August forced the Pirates hand.
A little perspective on his hot run for all of you readers who doubt the talent Neil Walker has, From July 30 until his first career Major League call-up on September 1, Walker collected 34 RBI which tied him with Philadelphia Phillies 1B Ryan Howard for the largest total in all of Professional Baseball during that period.
Certainly, Walker needs a great spring training. But Pirate fans, keep on doubting him. Front office? Keep doubting too.
But don’t think for one second Walker feels sorry for himself for the sacrifices he has made. He simply wants to help the Pirates win, he said it a few times and my favorite quote is this one, “ I believe I am capable of doing that, whether it is as a catcher, third basemen, second basemen, or right or left fielder.”
He would continue to sacrifice in order to help the Bucs win. That’s rather refreshing isn’t it?
John Russell? We’re not sure you’re ready for Walker to have a breakout year. But just remember where you read it first. And Pirate fans, don’t doubt the Pittsburgh kid because Neil Walker, is ready to prove he is going to make a difference for the Pirates in 2010.
Hungry and humble is a combination that is just too good to doubt any longer.