Pittsburgh Pirates' Neil Walker Handles Hometown Pressure Well

By Stacey Kengal
Neil Walker
Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY SPORTS

Neil Walker. Born and raised in the ‘Burg.

The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ 2004 first-round draft pick must feel great to be playing his baseball before for his hometown, especially at the professional level. To be paid to do something you love, and in front of thousands of people who love you, well, it just wouldn’t seem to get much better than that for a “job”.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the home-grown product of Pine-Richland HS in Gibsonia, PA, just 16 miles north of “dawntawn” Pittsburgh doesn’t secretly enjoy a good road trip now and then. There has to be a lot of “interactions” with friends and family that a player from out of town doesn’t necessarily get exposed to in the same way Walker does on a daily basis.

“Neil, you’re Cousin Ginny called and wants to know if you can get her those same seats for the game?… No?!…Well why not?!”

“Neil, you’re parents called and can’t make the game tonight. You’re mom’s not feeling up to it. Can you stop there before the game?”

“Neil, you’re Uncle Joe says you’re pulling off the ball too much, keep that front shoulder in there!”

Mind you, the stats don’t necessarily bear it. Walker’s career .272 batting average on the road is almost identical to his .278 home BA, and his home run and RBI production on the road (25/117) vs. his home numbers (19/127) pretty much match each other.

Still, maybe he’d be hitting .300 at home and knocking the ball out of the ballpark more often if he wasn’t born on the banks of the Monongahela? (I know your son wasn’t really born on the banks of the Monongahela River, Mrs. Walker, but I’m just trying to be creative. Hopefully you’ll forgive the poetic license.)

There’s no way to know for certain the effects of being a “local guy done good”. Real good.

In any case, the guy certainly seems to handle the demands of hometown hero — whatever they may be, and in truth, we can only imagine — pretty well. Walker always seems affable and in good spirits around the ballpark. He’s certainly one of the quiet leaders on the team and it’s obvious that the team just isn’t the same without him in there on a nightly basis. He’s an integral part of their current winning formula.

Kudos to Neil Walker for not cracking under the pressure of Uncle Joe’s batting tips.

Stacey Kengal is a writer for RantSports.com covering the Pittsburgh Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @StaceyKengal, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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