For Brandt Walker, it was a lengthy process that in the end provided him with enticing options but a difficult decision. Then a senior at St. Stephens Episcopal School in Austin (Tex.), the 6'2" righthanded pitcher narrowed his list of offers and options to a final five, where he took his official visits: Texas, Rice, Notre Dame, Miami and Stanford. Walker ultimately winnowed that quintet to a final decision between Stanford and Texas, which went the way of the Cardinal. The Lone Star State standout felt a wave of emotion that swept him toward Palo Alto before he finished his trips. He was in transit to his fourth official visit when he received the congratulatory phone call from Stanford head coach Mark Marquess: Walker's admissions application had been accepted by Stanford.
"It was amazing. It was different from most schools. I didn't really have to apply to all the other schools. At Stanford, it's a little different with the academics," Walker says. "When Coach Marquess called me... it kind of hit me. I thought, 'Wow, I just got into Stanford.' It was probably one of the most special moments of my life. At that point, it was my second to last visit, but when I found out that I got in, something hit me. I thought, 'This is where I want to be.'"
"People recognize that Stanford is a world-class school. I just figured that I could put myself into a position where I could come a school like this and play baseball," the Texan continues. "Coach [Dean] Stotz talks about it a lot: Nobody else does it like we do it. The combination of baseball and school. I think people really respect that. They understand that it's a good school, but we also have a good baseball team. Texas obviously has had success, and other places, too. But with this combination, nobody else can compete."
Nine months later, however, somebody competed quite effectively against the Cardinal. Walker was drafted last June at the end of his senior year by the Texas Rangers, taken in the 21st round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. That middling position in a draft that lasts 50 rounds and selects over 1,000 prospects from high school and college is not show-stopping. But the Rangers waited until the second day of the Draft to tab Walker due to concerns of being able to sign him away from Stanford, rather than a reflection of his stock and talent. The Cardinal have not lost high school recruit committed to them to the clutches of pro baseball since B.J. Garbe in 1999. But Walker was a Top 100 prospect drafted by a "hometown" club just up I-35 who thought very highly of him.
"When I first committed, I was just focused on Stanford. Then things kind of changed as the spring came about," Walker admits. "I was always leaning toward Stanford, just because it's something you can't pass up. But I did take a good hard look at signing."
Two weeks before the Draft, Walker sat down to explore the options availed to him. With 30 pro clubs knocking at his door, each with their own complexities and levels of attractiveness, it was a dizzying affair. Then he simplified the situation to two choices, parallel to his process the previous fall.
"In my mind, I either wanted to go play for Stanford or I wanted to play for the Texas Rangers," Walker says. "I told all of the other teams, 'Don't draft me. I'm going to go to Stanford.' I flew up to Arlington to talk to the Rangers and pitched for them about a week before the Draft. I met with their people and had some good long conversations with them. In my mind I would only sign with the Rangers because I always had a good relationship with them."
The Rangers had scouted Walker closely on their roster at the Area Code Games in Long Beach (Calif.) in August before his senior year. He knew all the scouts. He manager Buck Showalter and general manager John Daniels, in addition to the others in the front office, like peas in a pod. The Rangers coveted his plus fastball that sat at 90-92 m.p.h. and touched 93, in addition to his change-up and curve. The two parties could see a wonderful future together.
"I was really comfortable with them. That was the pro team that I thought could help me develop," Walker relates. "But I always knew in the back of my mind that Stanford would always be there for me."
The day he was drafted, Walker pitched in Albuquerque (N.M.) at the 2006 All-American High School Baseball Game (where he threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings of one-hit ball). He and the Rangers talked and decided to have a sit-down meeting the following week in Austin. Walker and his mother met with the Rangers brass in a conference room at her office.
"We talked things through, and they went ahead and made an offer. That night, I kind of threw it around in my head," the pitcher replays. "They said, 'We can go up a little bit,' but I just thought at that point, Stanford was where I wanted to be. I called Coach Marquess the next day and told him I'm coming, 100 percent."
The Rangers made a final effort and called again in September right before Walker started classes at Stanford. He answered, "I'm really coming out to school, and I'm moving in. It's a done deal."
"It was a good feeling to finally be done because the recruiting process was a long time. All of the pro stuff took a long time," the Stanford freshman sighs. "To finally say that 100 percent this is where I am going to be - that was a really good feeling."
|Freshman RHP Jeff Inman|
Another saga played out for fellow righthanded pitcher and Stanford signee, Jeff Inman, a senior at Bakersfield (Calif.) Garces Memorial High School. The 6'3" thrower was admitted and committed to the Cardinal later in his senior year, opting for Stanford over the UCLA Bruins in the early spring. Walker enjoyed much acclaim his senior season, with a 10-2 record, 1.25 ERA and 134 strikeouts in 66 innings. Inman did not have the same numbers, going 6-4 but still owning an admirable 1.95 ERA and 79 strikeouts (against six walks) in 50 1/3 innings pitched.
"My year was alright. It wasn't my best year," Inman allows.
But a prospect's stock can only partially be told by his high school statistics, and Inman attracted a crowd of scouts his senior season. Baseball America ranked him the #124 prospect for the 2006 MLB Draft among high school and college players. Like Walker, Inman lives on his plus fastball, but Inman also throws a good curveball and has a fascination and fondness for a change-up.
"It's my favorite pitch," he describes. "I like the way it feels coming off my hand. You don't see a lot of guys with a great change-up, and that's something I'm working to do."
The Kansas City Royals took Inman with the first selection of the 19th round. The relationship did not run deeply like that of Walker and the Rangers, but Inman similarly saw Stanford as the ultimate prize. As a result, he asked for a premium price to forgo The Farm.
"I asked for probably more than I'm worth. Definitely more," he laughs, "because I wanted to go to school at Stanford."
The Royals concurred with Inman's assessment of the price tag and soon stopped calling. Bakersfield's bright talent was headed to college, which was where he aimed to be since he was a youngster.
"I had [the Draft] in the back of my mind, but I knew from the get-go that Stanford was where I wanted to be," he maintains. "The education is the best in the country, and I want that in case pro baseball doesn't work out down the road."
"It was always a childhood goal," Inman explains. "I was watching college baseball as a kid with my dad and asked him where I should go. He said, 'If you want to go to school and play baseball, Stanford is the best.'" I always held Stanford in such high esteem."
Interestingly, neither righthander describes much intervention by Marquess, Stotz or any of the Cardinal coaches that ultimately swayed them from signing with pro baseball. They were not "convinced" of the Stanford side of their respective decisions, and both came to relatively swift conclusions. There was no 11th hour drama akin to the Seattle Mariners scouts climbing to the window of John Mayberry Jr.'s dorm room on the eve of classes. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that both student-athletes are enjoying the early tastes of the Cardinal campus and college experience.
"The Stanford education can be worth unlimited value. It's more than money," Walker says of his decision against signing. "It's the experiences. It's the people you meet. It's the camaraderie with the guys that you just don't get in the minor leagues. I've already had a blast with just the two weeks I've had out here."
"So far it's been everything I've expected and more," Inman agrees. "I like the other guys on the team. School is great. I'm having a great time."
Walker and Inman are part of a five-man freshman group of righthanders who are enjoying workouts, classes and college life together. And though fall ball team practices are just underway, the majesty and splendor of Stanford Baseball struck them within days of arriving on campus.
"We break after workouts with a chant of '1-2-3-Omaha!'" Walker relates. "Then it hit me. Wow, we're working to get to the College World Series."
Such is the story each year on The Farm, and now we know that two new Stanford arms are on board for the journey, after Jeff Inman and Brandt Walker have opted for college baseball and the Cardinal experience.
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