Body Language Speaks Volumes For Hogs Catcher

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas catcher Brian Walker has a black belt in rhetoric. Some people confuse him for a walking dictionary.

He's faster than a transitive verb, more powerful than a dangling participle and able to leap tall adjectives with a single noun.

Good copy.

This intelligent, well-spoken redshirt freshman with a minty-fresh approach to baseball clearly has been a breath of fresh air to this Razorbacks team during an up-and-down season.

And more than his body language has proven he can walk the walk at the highest level of collegiate athletics.

Walker, a human quotehanger, has a lot of people blabbering about him and plateful of talent he brings to the table.

His appetite for winning is contagious.

Arkansas teammates definitely will need him to be hungry this weekend when they finish the regular season, beginning at 7:05 p.m. today against No. 19 Ole Miss in Baum Stadium.

This left-handed hitting, no-nonsense catcher doesn't mind speaking his mind, either.

And he doesn't mind getting into your grill.

"Oh, he'll get on you, for sure," said Hogs freshman left-handed pitcher Nick Schmidt, who'll start tonight in yet another critical Southeastern Conference series. "He doesn't mind getting into your face if you make a mistake.

"Really, that makes us better."

All-Around Player
Walker, 6-foot, 215 pounder with a rocket arm and a hiccup-quick release, has become a complete player this season.

He's second on the team among position players -- remember he's involved in every pitch -- with a .992 fielding percentage, just behind first baseman Danny Hamblin at .993.

And he's made only two errors. Count 'em, two, in the 34 starts he's made behind the plate.

In 44 games played, Walker has hit 6 home runs, has 6 doubles and 20 RBIs.

In addition, opponents have stolen 26 bases on 42 attempts. Mighty good numbers for a catcher who now plays just about every game and refuses to leave the lineup.

A MASH unit couldn't convince this young solider to leave the field of battle.

Want proof?

In a recent series at Kentucky, Walker, a transfer from Arizona State, caught 18 straight innings of a doubleheader.

"I don't want to sit out, no matter how I feel," Walker said. "Mentally, I think I'm strong enough to withstandany situation. I don't want to watch. I've put to much time in to watch.

"If we wind up playing 20 innings, I don't want to come out because that's my nature, that's the way I was taught. Hurt or not, you need to stay in there because that's the way all the other guys are on this team."

Walker, over the past month, has rediscovered how to hit.

Well, not exactly. Fact is, he's been hitting the ball hard all season, but almost always, it seems, right at someone.

Razorbacks hitting coach Matt Deggs can't help but chuckle when one suggests something was wrong.

"The thing is with Brian Walker, he's been one of our best hitters since he stepped foot on campus," Deggs said. "He led us in hitting in the fall. He led us in the spring before we started the season, then he got off to one of the more miserable starts you can get off to.

"That, compounded with the fact he lost his swing for about a month. He dug himself into an incredibly deep hole.

"You've got to remember, this is the first time he's played in a year. And he's playing in the toughest league in the country.

"He'll be a force for us.

"Over the course of the past month, if you'll look at the numbers, he's hit with anybody we've got."

Statistics don't lie.

Walker, whose batting average dipped to .177 at one point, is hitting .327 with 3 homers and 8 RBIs over the last 15 games. He heads into tonight's game with a .242 mark.

"Early in the season, it was frustrating mentally but the coaches stayed behind me," Walker said. "They told me to keep working. I tried to stay positive and not pay attention to the stats. I took each a.b. (at-bat) for what it was worth.

"Fortunately, things have fallen into place for me."

Walker's resurgence really began on April 19 in Springfield, Mo., in a 9-4 win against Southwest Missouri State. In that game, he clubbed two homers -- in back-to-back innings -- and drove in five runs.

Last weekend in a series win at then-No. 13 Alabama, Walker hit .340. In that series, Walker, who dislocated his thumb about every other game, had three hits for the second time in his career Sunday.

Becoming A Leader
Brian Walker has proven to be intelligent, confident and sturdy.

Unintentionally, he's become something more.

"He's become a leader," said Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn. "I think, at first, the other guys probably didn't know what to think about Walker, taking charge like that. The last month, month-and-a-half, they've been looking up to him.

"He's done a good job, has a feel for the job. He's kind of our bulldog, our general. Kind of rare for a young guy. It's positive for the future when you have young guys who are stepping it up.

"He's done that."

Kind of the way Hamblin, a sophomore, did a year ago when he arrived on campus.

"My job is understanding the pitching staff," Walker said. "You know, Danny's kind of the infield guy who takes care of that part of it. My job is to handle the pitchers. I didn't come here wanting to be a leader. If I am, so be it. I just came here to do my job as a catcher and run the show, give feedback to the pitchers."

Even if it seems harsh?

Walker posted a hesitated smile before answering.

"Yeah, me and Schmidt go after it, pretty much every Friday night," Walker said. "He's a great kid. Sometimes he gets ... loses focus, not lose focus. He's a young kid. I go out there get on his butt a little bit. If he's mad at me, he's throwing 94 (mph), that's fine, cause his stuff is in the zone.

"Of the field, we get along together fine."

Walker said he's glad to have that opportunity since he turned it down the first time it was offered.

So, what was he thinking?

"Well, out of high school (Tulsa Union) I was recruited by Arizona State and Arkansas heavily," Walker said. "I took two visits to both places. I made a decision to go to ASU. They gave me a full ride. Looking back, hindsight being 20-20, I wish I had come here first.

"It was a good learning experience going to Arizona State. I grew up. It was far away from home, parents not there to nurture you or anything, so I had to grow up a little bit.

"Arkansas was a great place. I followed them last year when they went to the College World Series and everything and I had friends on the team (sophomore outfielder Stephen Robison and junior pitcher Charley Boyce, also Tulsa Union graduates).

"I knew the coaches well. I'm just fortunate they gave me a second chance. I appreciate everything they've done for me.

"I can't find the words to thank them enough."

Well, with a black belt in rhetoric, betcha he can.

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