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Not rattled: Marysville's Walker off to fast start in Brewers' organization
The home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers is currently useless, the result of a phenomenon that never occurred during Mike Walker's Marysville High days: snow.
Eight inches of it, in fact. From first base to third, from left field to the bleacher seats, the place where the former Indians' baseball star is starting to find his groove, to feel at home and show he belongs is inundated with a wintery mix.
That's what the local meteorologists call it — like the gentleman from the ABC affiliate. With a tone of exasperation, he told the greater Green Bay area Wednesday, "boy oh boy, let's hope the snow is behind us." Twenty-eight degrees three days before Easter isn't just bad baseball weather, it's bad everything weather.
Naturally, games have been canceled, leaving little recourse for Walker but to hit in indoor cages and take grounders off random floors. But he's shrugging it off.
He's been through worse, much worse. Plus, he's hitting. He's hitting it all over Time Warner Cable Field, which when not snowed in, is where he's been shining for the Milwaukee Brewers' class-A affiliate. Through 11 games, he's hitting .371 with 13 hits, 12 RBIs and 10 walks in 35 at-bats.
"I don't know what to attribute it to," he said. "It's just baseball — sometimes you see it, sometimes you don't."
There's more to it than him being on a simple hot streak, though. For Walker, playing and living in Appleton, Wis., is making an otherworldly difference for the third baseman. The people are friendly; the town of 70,000 is inviting and open. He feels warm and welcome, even amid a bitter April cold.
It's a complete turnaround from last summer's stint in rookie ball for the Helena Brewers. From the beginning, the situation was full of shocks and of "welcome to the minors" moments.
The day after his 22nd birthday, Walker left everything he knew, saying good-bye to a girlfriend, family and Northern California. The University of the Pacific standout was excited to report as a 14th-round pick in Montana.
Upon arrival, he and a teammate were picked up by their host mother, and piled into the car for the ride to where they'd be staying. Everything was normal until she turned around and said, "By the way, I live in a trailer park."
Walker's new confines had wheels for a foundation. He would share a room. His homesickness exacerbated, and after a 1 for 3 start, he went more than two weeks without a hit.
He finished rookie ball hitting .277, and put those memories behind him with a steady steam of solid play this season.
Plus, he likes his teammates on the Timber Rattlers. Plus, his team bus has WiFi, so he can stream Netflix and check Facebook on the way to Midwest League road games. Plus, he lives in an apartment now — something that can never be taken for granted.
"I actually have my own room," he said.
As for the best moment of this improved situation? Well, there's two.
The first came in his second game with the Timber Rattlers, when he roped a single to left field in his second at-bat. In the season opener, Walker went 1 for 3, just like he did in rookie ball before that disastrous drought at the plate. That routine "1B" was absolving: It wasn't going to happen again.
The second was his walk-off bomb against the Peoria Chiefs on April 2. It gave his team a 2-1 victory, and you can tell he's excited by the way he flips his bat in the YouTube video.
"If you can make it through rookie league," he said, "then you're pretty well-set mind wise."
Actually, Walker's biggest preoccupation right now is trying to avoid his good numbers. He doesn't check stats, and will reiterate how it's a long season when questioned about his early success. When he steps to the plate, he purposely tries to hide his eyes from the big outfield scoreboard where his average is displayed.
The numbers Walker seems most concerned about is those of his brother Davis, who's a senior on the Indians' baseball team. His are just a bonus.
"I'm trying to have fun on the field," Walker said.