Neil Walker is an interesting player. He was rock solid at the plate in 2010 and was named to the Topps ML Rookie All-Star Team. He continually stung the ball hard throughout the season and ripped 12 homers in 110 games. Some feel it was a career year. For us, we think it was just the beginning. His work ethic is strong. His commitment to the team and the city he grew up in is just as resilent.
But we think the thing that makes him stand out so much more is that he is a Pittsburgh guy. None of this is too big for him.
Currently, Walker is the only Pirates player in town and when we bump into him, he’s rocking a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. Yeh, Neil Walker is real. He’s got the Terrible Towel too. It has the look of a towel that had been to a few games as well, not just handed to him. You know, like your Terrible Towel.
The next time we spoke, he was chatting with Kent Tekulve in Club Cambria at PNC Park. Since Walker lives in Pittsburgh he spends a great deal of his time at PNC Park and throughout the city attending events. While other players head back to their homes in the offseason and miss being invited to numerous charity functions, Walker is right in the middle of the mix. He certainly appears to enjoy it.
On this night, Tekulve was spinning stories as only the rubber band man can. Neil listened intently to a few other players with championship rings as well–Grant Jackson and Manny Sanguillen. Walker leaned in close when Teke would share a tale of championships past. It seemed he didn’t want to miss any of the details, and Teke had plenty. From legendary tales of pennant races to playing left field, their isn’t much Tekulve hasn’t done, and Walker listened to them all.
At one point as the conversation ended, a person attempting to continue the discussion asked Neil what he did for a living. Yeh, Neil Walker is just that normal. She had no idea he was a Pittsburgh Pirates player.
When I rudely interjected into their conversation by pointing in the direction of the baseball diamond and shouting, “Your kidding right? You don’t know? This is Neil Walker. He dominates right down there on the grass. He is a Pittsburgh Pirate!”
Walker sort of shrugged his shoulders not making a big deal about her lack of knowledge. He almost seemed embarassed for her as he gave me the why did you say that look. Yeh, Neil Walker is real.
And I’m an ass.
Pittsburgh has a right to be proud of Neil Walker. And a bright future for the years ahead.
You’ve been asked I’m sure, but fans are simply baffled by one question. Why do the Pirates suck on the road and play so well at home?
I’m not sure why we play so well at home and so poorly on the road. I think that you just have to trick yourself on the road and try to make yourself believe its a home game. I don’t know….. thats a tough one. It’s hard to win on the road, but we need to find a way to do it. I don’t think there is any formula that can do it, we just have to find a way.
What was the worst thing a fan said to you on the road?
The only memorable thing that has happened in the big leagues from a fan standpoint happened in Chicago. A guy was heckling me during batting practice, so I threw him a ball in hopes of shutting him up, as soon as he got it and I turned around he threw it at me, it missed my back by about a half a foot, and fortunately he has a weak arm, when I turned back toward him he was gone with a security guy going after him. I thought it was funny, but most places tend to be pretty tame.
What advice do you have for die hard Pirates fans? 2011 has to be better than last year right?
Pirates fans are going to see some of the rookies a little more experienced this year, hopefully through free agency we can get a few good pieces to the puzzle. I think there is a lot to look forward to as a fan. As players we really started to jell in the locker room at the end of the year, and regardless of the win/loss column, we feel like that core of guys and camaraderie is important and something that will help us grow as a team.
Tell us about your concussion, have you had any recurring trouble from it?
Having a concussion is no fun, I felt like I was in a daze for about five days, loud noise, bright lights, moving too fast all made the headaches come back. But fortunately not doing much for about seven days, and the fact that it was only my first concussion all helped in getting back quickly and safely. I definitely feel like it would have gotten worse had I come back too soon. I can’t imagine playing a sport like football where you get your head banged around on a weekly basis, concussions are nothing to mess with. I do remember what happened in mine, but I was in a dazed state for days.
Tell us something cool about your family that you are thankful for?
I’m thankful for everything my family has done for me, all the baseball practices, and the right advice, being brought up in an area such as Gibsonia, all helped shape me into the person I am today. I owe a lot of thanks to my mom and dad for a lot of my accolades.
But I’m still sort of confused as to how my dad could have been a major league pitcher and throw 95, and I can probably top out at like 82, maybe. I guess thankfully my mom was good athlete and could hit, because I’ve seen my dad hit, and (laughing) I definitely didn’t get my offensive ability from him.
When all this baseball garbage is over, will you play for our softball team, TNT?
I don’t know how efficient I would be as a softball player, but hopefully I get to a point where when I’m done, I’ll be done for good, and I can leave with no regrets. So I think the softball team will be a no. (Walker laughed, we didn’t)
Hopefully I can somehow stay involved with baseball when I’m done, I’m not sure what else I’m qualified to do. (Walker laughs again, we’re still pissed about the softball rejection.)
But I do think I would like to run some sort of business someday. Honestly though, I haven’t gotten that far yet.
We don’t even ask a question, Walker just adds this on his own. He’s the real deal.
Lastly, I hope that the fans will continue to support us. I know how difficult it can be. Especially the last 18 years, to be a Pirates fan….. I lived through it as a youth, and to be able to have the opportunity to help turn it around is something I’m proud to do. I am going to work my butt off bettering myself and giving my all to this organization, and also to give back to Pittsburgh, my favorite city in the world. Thank you all for all your support, and see you all in 2011.
God Bless, and Happy Holidays!
We hope you enjoyed reading this series on Walker as much as we did.