Regensburg, Germany (heinnews) – Sure, Larry Walker hasn’t played a baseball game since 2005. But the former Expos, Rockies and Cardinals slugger still exudes an impressive presence. His storied Major League Baseball career gives his words of advice that much more weight. And Canada’s young and brightest hitters love having the 45-year-old as the national team’s hitting coach.
“He just brings so much experience and knowledge to the table, and it’s great having him around. Anything that comes with that type of career as a background to back it up, there’s no doubt that it carries a lot of weight,” Canada first baseman Jimmy Van Ostrand told heinnews.
Obviously Van Ostrand listened to a thing or two that Walker had to say as the 28-year-old put up some Walker-like numbers at the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Regensburg, Germany. He hit .538 with four home runs to go along with nine runs and 10 RBI in three games as Canada won the pool tournament to book a spot at the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
“He’s great to have around as a member of the coaching staff. That’s one of the strengths of this team, the way that we come together quickly and the way that we go out and compete. Everyone brings their own little element to the table. And he’s no different. It’s awesome having him and the whole coaching staff around,” said Van Ostrand, who played this season with the Double-A team for the Washington Nationals.
But Walker’s impact was not just on Canada’s power hitters.
‘It’s great to have Larry here and his knowledge about hitting,” said Canada’s speedy leadoff hitter Tyson Gillies.
“He’s one of the best rightfielders to play the game of baseball. Growing up in Canada we didn’t have too many Canadians in the big leagues. So he’s always been a huge name.”
Gillies admitted that growing up he didn’t know much about baseball. But the 23-year-old from Vancouver knew who Larry Walker was.
“Having him here and being able to hang out with him as one of the guys has been a dream come true. I’m excited to pick his brain and see what I can learn,” said Gillies, an outfielder in the Philadelphia Phillies farm system.
In addition to Walker, there is another former great for the players to look up to – manager Ernie Whitt, who caught 12 of his 15 years in MLB for the Toronto Blue Jays until 1989.
“We grew up watching Ernie Whitt and Larry Walker play. A lot of us idolized them growing up. So to have them on our coaching staff is pretty neat. I think we all look up to them and we really value what they say. So when they say something we really listen,” said Canada outfielder Adam Loewen.
Walker finished his career with 383 home runs, 1,311 RBI, a .313 career batting average and 230 stolen bases. He led the NL in hitting three times and won the 1997 MVP crown – the first Canadian to do so – with an NL-high 49 home runs. Walker has been Canada’s hitting coach since 2006, when he was on the staff for the first World Baseball Classic.
“They reached out to me. I played in the big leagues,” Walker deadpanned with a wry smile.
“I’m a Canadian, I played in the big leagues, they need coaching so I always willing to help these guys whenever I have the time to fit it in. It’s always a joy to come out here.”
With Team Canada being only a part-time job, Walker was asked what he does in the rest of his free time.
“What I really do I can’t say right now because you’d have to bleep it out. But I do whatever I feel like I want to do whenever I want to do it: golf, hang with the kids, fish. Whatever I wake up and feel like doing that day, really,” said the Maple Ridge, British Columbia native.
And his job is getting easier and easier as his compatriots improve more and more.
“The big thing is that these guys are getting great coaching. The coaching they are getting in the minor leagues with their affiliated teams is always good. And the amount of playing times, reps and games, reps and games, over and over, it makes you better,” said the five-time All-Star.
“Eventually these guys are getting there. They’re not just Canadian ball players, they’re good Canadian ball players. I think that’s the thing I like most about how the Canadian game has changed most in the last couple decades – just how good we’ve gotten.”
Walker was a star in his day. And ever the jokester, when asked about his chances of making the Hall of Fame, Walker replied: “I’m already in.”
After leaving the reporter a bit dumbfounded, he added: “In the Canadian Hall of Fame (inducted in 2009).”
About Cooperstown, he said we’ll see what happens as he received 20.3 percent of the vote in 2011 – his first year of eligibility.
“I got some numbers. (Pitcher Bert) Blyleven I think got 13 percent in his first year (actually 17.55 percent) and I had a little bit more than that. Maybe 13 years from now something good would happen,” said Walker.
“One (positive) is that I’m Canadian. And there aren’t a lot of us who have had success. There’s more these days than there has been.”
The seven-time NL Gold Glove Award winner knows he has strong numbers and that those were produced without the use of steroids.
“Nothing ever went in my butt so I don’t have to worry about any stories about me taking anything. I’m clean. And that’s the positive thing about it. We’ll see how they take that into the voting,” said Walker.
It would seem just a matter of time, given the impact he had on the game – and is still having on the Canadian game.