Saturday, July 21, 2012

He hits to all fields, and then some

Entering last night's game, Neil Walker, the switch-hitting second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates, had 99 hits for the 2012 season.  So?  Of those 99 hits:
  • 33 went to right field 
  • 33 went to center field
  • 33 went to left field
Last night, in his first at-bat, Walker smacked a single up the middle for his 100th hit.  Then, in the sixth inning, as if he couldn't make up his mind, he hit one out of the park for the winning run in the Pirates' 4-3 win over the Miami Marlins at PNC Park.  For the season, Walker is batting .301 with eight home runs and 45 RBIs.  After 92 games, the Pirates are 52-40 and a half-game out of first place.

Hometown Hero
It's too easy to call Walker "a hometown hero."   The 26-year-old Walker, a Pittsburgh native who grew up a Pirates fan and quarterbacked his Pine-Richland High School football team to the state championship game,  has lived the kind of dream that lots of kids aspire to while playing wiffle ball in the backyard: Play, and be a star player, for his hometown major league team.

Having just concluded a 17-game hitting streak -- and being robbed of a hit in his final at-bat that 18th game -- Walker has played nearly every game this year.  He's steady, not particularly flashy, providing rock-solid defense and quiet leadership.  He is reliable.  Solid.  He is excellent at turning the double-play (having been tutored by none other than the all-time great, Bill Mazeroski).  He is exactly what you want in a second baseman.  He is exactly what the Pirates need.

Hometown hero?  Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would rather call him "signed to a long-term contract."