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pittsburgh pirates
second baseman
neil walker
Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day 2011
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Hometown Kid and Roberto Clemente

Neil Walker, starting his first full season as the Pirates full time second baseman already shares something with one of the, if not the, greatest Pirate of all time Roberto Clemente.

They are the only 2 Pirates to open the season with a Grand Slam.

Future Legend

Walker is as close to a Pirate legend as anyone on the squad this year. Not for the reason Roberto was a legend for the Pirates, not yet at least. He has not yet earned his stripes as a great Pirate based on his play.

He inherited his legendary status simply by being the hometown kid that gets to live out the dream of every kid that roots for his favorite team. He actually gets to play for the Pirates, the team he grew up watching and admiring as a youngster. I could only dream of standing out there on opening day playing the game you love.

Goodbye Mr. Spalding

In the fifth inning Walker stepped up to bat in Wrigley Field and sent Ryan Dempster's pitch flying over the outfield wall and out of the ballpark, eventually landing on Waveland Avenue. A dream come true.

What's great about Walker's story is that last year at this time Walker did not have a position. He was one of those can't miss prospects. He had so much talent that it was just a matter of time before he made it to the majors and was a cornerstone of the Pirates.

The Beginning

He was drafted as a catcher. The Pirates decided they had plenty of talent at the position so they tried him at third. He had the athletic ability and many a catchers have been successfully moved to third base.

3rd Base Option Gone

He started off well and showed that he was capable defensively, but struggled offensively. Along comes Pedro Alvarez and now 3rd base is not open for competition and Walker still doesn't have the offensive punch the Pirates desperately need. So, he learns as many positions as he can so he can catch on as a utility player and get on the major league roster. At this point the idea of becoming an every day player is fading.

2nd Base Gone...or not?

The Pirates then sign Akinori Iwamura as their everyday second baseman. As fate would have it that was a bad signing. I know, you're stunned. The Pirates never do that. Hey! was that Raul Mondesi over there. I couldn't tell because he was gone too fast. Anyway, Iwamura had major knee problems and had the range of a turtle. The Pirates tried several players including Walker.

Talent rises to the top

First, he was in the rotation for a game here and a game there. Then a strange thing happened for a Pirates prospect, sorry Andrew that excludes you, he started hitting, and he started hitting home runs. So, the rotation became more of Walker and less of others. Walker kept hitting and kept hitting home runs. Remember the Pirates went some ridiculous number of games last year without hitting a 2 or more run home run. They need power hitters.

Everyday Second Baseman

Walker kept hitting and playing a decent second base and the Pirates finally had no choice but to make him the regular second baseman. A lot of people had problems with his defensive play, but you don't just learn a new position overnight.

Remember this guy

Does Walker's story remind anyone of the story of a former Pirate who won a batting title. Due to bad choices Freddy Sanchez languished on the Pirates bench after they signed Joe Randa to be their third baseman. Surprise, surprise, Sanchez took over during the season and never looked back, eventually moving to second base and eventually replaced at the position by Mr. Walker.

Statue in front of PNC

Hopefully Walker puts up numbers for his hometown team that eventually put him up there next to Roberto. For now, I'll settle for that memorable Pirates opening day in 2011 and look forward to many more days just like this for Neil.

If you'd like to read more about the Pirates visit the Pittsburgh Sports Buzz for all the updates on what's going on in Da 'Burgh at PNC Park.

Street Talk

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