Walker's first hit comes on home stage
Family, friends present for Bucs rookie; Pujols offers kudos
PITTSBURGH -- It was incredibly hard to discern what third baseman Neil Walker was ready to categorize as the coolest part of getting his first Major League hit on Sunday -- the fact that it came in front of nearly his entire family and numerous friends, that it happened less than 20 miles from the Gibsonia, Pa., home he grew up in, or that the second person to congratulate him (after first-base coach Perry Hill) was future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.
Tough, isn't it?
"It's obviously fantastic," Walker said of the sharp single to right off Cardinals reliever Jason Motte in the eighth inning of the Pirates' 6-5 win. "This is a dream come true for me, hopefully one of many. I can kind of relax here and get back in the swing of things and not have to worry about that first one in the background."
With Walker well-recognized as the hometown kid in Pittsburgh, he received a partial standing ovation as he reached first. His dad, Tom, who was a Major League pitcher from 1972-77, was in attendance at PNC Park, along with Walker's mom, two brothers, sisters-in-law and sister. The only one missing from the clan was Don Kelly, Walker's brother-in-law, former teammate and now member of the Detroit Tigers.
"I think I'll give him a free pass," Walker joked when asked about Kelly's absence.
It took Walker, who is three days shy of his 24th birthday, nine at-bats to get that first hit.
"It looks like he's trying to get his feet on the ground timing-wise," manager John Russell said. "We'll continue to see how he progresses, but the good thing is that it doesn't look like he is overly anxious. He's trying to put together some kind of approach."
Walker said he has plans to frame the ball. And though he obviously can't document his brief conversation with Pujols in the same way, Walker's not concerned about forgetting his first exchange with the Cardinals first baseman.
"Albert Pujols said, 'Congratulations, kid. Good luck. One of many,'" Walker recalled. "That was definitely something I'm not going to forget. I didn't feel worthy enough to say a word to him. But that was really neat to be at first base the same time as him."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.