He was hungry.
He was humble.
And heading into the 2010 season Neil Walker was a third baseman stuck in the middle. With Andy LaRoche at Pittsburgh and Pedro Alvarez quickly moving through the system as the apparent heir to the hot corner, Neil Walker needed to do something in order to play for his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates ball club.
And at Pirates Spring Training Camp in Bradenton it was easy for us to see that there would be no stopping him. No matter how hard it would be. No matter who laughed at him and mistakenly spoke about his character. Neil Walker was committed to getting to the Major Leagues and making an impact.
RumBunter: Coming into the 2010 season, you spoke about doing whatever the organization needed you to do, and in Spring Training you were spotted all over the diamond. You jumped behind the plate, hopped around in the infield and I think tried playing outfield as well….how did all that make you feel?
Neil Walker: Doing whatever it takes has always been something I’ve taken pride in. I’ve always believed in my abilities to play baseball, no matter what the position. Ever since I was a little kid, my dream and goal has always been to win a World Series. I hope to one day be able to accomplish that, but my attitude has always been team first.
Walker headed to Indianapolis on a mission to murder baseballs. He had his OBP over .400, he increased his walk rate and consistently drove ball after ball into gaps throughout AAA ballparks. And he did all of this, while playing several positions which he admitted was a little bitter to accept at first.
Walker’s humilty and his work ethic should never have been in question.
But because some in the Pittsburgh media are lazy pieces of shit, further deepening the belief that one should never believe everything one reads, an incident in May was given much more attention than it should have. The “infield fly” fiasco was one that drew the ire of many Pirates fans.
The non story became a story when Walker or Steve Pearce were rumored to be coming to the big leagues. And during a Neal Huntington radio show the GM stated the Steve Pearce was “light years” ahead of Walker. Words about Walker showing a lack of hustle were transformed into a pile of foul smelling bullshit without so much as a call to Walker to cross check the facts.
Speculation was rampant. Outlets were dying to be the first to tell the story. And the trash that filled blogs and newspapers wasn’t far behind. Imagine a reporter like Mark Madden ripping into Walker with only the knowledge that Huntington provided in a few brief comments. (Madden’s article calling out Walker is no longer able to be found, but his adamant retraction sure is.)
- Bob Smizik also jumped in on the story and had these comments about Walker:
“Walker is behaving like, well a jerk.” Bob Smizik
But it was this trash that set us over the edge:
“Walker’s a Pittsburgh guy who’s not a Pittsburgh guy.” Bob Smizik
We asked Walker about it and as can be expected, Walker handled our questions with the utmost class. It was very obvious that he has put all of it in the past. The comment that made us laugh out loud because of it’s level of idiocy, shocked Walker. It was easy to tell he didn’t appreciate being called out in the city he adores.
RumBunter: What did you think about Smizik’s comments about you not being a “Pittsburgh guy?”
Walker: This is actually the first I heard about not being a Pittsburgh guy, that’s interesting seeing I’ve grown up here my whole life, been the biggest fan of all the sports teams here, and came up in the Pirates organization. I’m not sure how much more of a Pittsburgh guy I could be. But he’s entitled to his opinion.
RumBunter: How do you block out such negativity?
Walker: I’ve tried as hard as I can to block out any negative comments and feel like I’ve done a good job, as a professional athlete you have to take the good with the bad, and the less you worry about what one writer is saying or what a talk show said, the better off you are, it can wear you down.
RumBunter: Neil tell us about the infield fly that got way more attention than it should have?
Walker: It was an infield fly with runners on first and second, we had a rule you have to touch first base on any balls hit in play, I got about a step from first base, where the runner on first was standing, and peeled off to the dugout. I took full responsibility for my actions, learned from it, and it’s in the past.
RumBunter: Is your relationship with Neal Huntington cool?
Walker: Yeh, my relationship with Neal is good. He’s a good motivator to the players, and wants what we all want, to play winning baseball and win a World Series. He’s incredibly smart, and I have the utmost respect for what he has to deal with as a General Manager, and realize how difficult it is.
RumBunter: Everyone that doubted you before, is now talking about regression in 2011, how do you shut them up again?
Walker: Well, fortunately I don’t care what anyone thinks about whether I’m going to have better numbers or not in 2011. What I do care about is how my preparation is, how can I get better on a daily basis, how can I help the team win, and how good my effort level is. I can only worry about what I can control. I’m confident everything else will take care of itself.
Looking back on all of the drama surrounding Walker’s rise to the majors, the hungry and humble guy got the last laugh. And Pirates fans got to see just how talented their hometown kid was in a season that nobody will forget.
In the next segment Walker takes a look back at the year and talks about hitting and champagne.