The Pittsburgh Pirates have been blessed with many locally raised players throughout MLB history, going back to Honus Wagner and extending to Dick Groat and Bill Mazeroski. The most recent from that line is Neil Walker, who last week announced his retirement from MLB. The ‘Pittsburgh Kid’ deserves all accolades sent his way.
MLB History: Early Years
Walker was born in Pittsburgh and his father Tom was a former MLB pitcher for many teams. He was raised in the nearby North Hills and was a two-sport star in high school, catching for the baseball team and playing wide receiver on the football team. Upon graduating in 2004, he was the first-round selection of the Pirates in the amateur draft. For a young man who was a fan of the team and attended many games at the old Three Rivers Stadium, it indeed was a dream come true.
Walker was assigned to the Altoona Curve, the Double-A affiliate of the big club, in 2007 after being invited to training camp. Walker was converted to third base and began to show promise. He had a solid season in 2007 and was sent to Indianapolis for the 2008 campaign. He played third base there in both 2008 and 2009 and began the 2010 season there as well. But things for Neil were about to change in a big way.
On May 25, 2010, Walker was called up to the big club. He played several games at third base, getting both his first hit and home run. Then he was asked to play second base, a position he was much less familiar with as he had played less than 25 games there in the minors. His 56 RBIs after the all-star break were among the league leaders and he was chosen for several all-rookie teams in MLB history.
On Opening Day of 2012, Neil Walker became the second Pirate in MLB history to hit a grand slam on opening day, the first being Roberto Clemente. It capped off an opening day win for the team under new manager Clint Hurdle. The Pirates even had a bobblehead collectible day for Neil and he obliged with a five-RBI night.
Walker was a solid contributor to the team through the three wild card years of 2013-2015. He even made MLB history when he hit a walk-off home run on opening day in 2015. But, in a cost-cutting move, he was traded to the Mets after the 2015 season. He was a good contributor to the Mets but soon found himself being shuffled about between many teams. From August 2017 to his retirement last week, Walker played for the Brewers, Yankees, Marlins, and Phillies. Not able to find an offer, he announced his retirement on April 20, 2021, using an image from his Pirate days on social media.
Neil Walker was always a stand-up guy, solid contributor, and good teammate. While it is sad for him to retire, of course, we all can be glad to have seen the ‘Pittsburgh Kid’ in action.
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main image credit Embed from Getty Images