It took 10 attempts for the South Bend Silver Hawks to earn their first victory of the 2008 season. Manager Mark Haley emphasized not panicking about the situation to his ballclub, and Derrick Walker indicated that his teammates managed to take that message to heart.
"No one in the clubhouse was stressing out about it," recalled Walker. "I mean, stressing out in a good way, but not a bad way. We know we have a great group of guys here."
Confidence plays such a large role in success, particularly in baseball, and specifically at the lower levels. The reason being that many players who were used to beating up on diluted competition in high school and college enter the pros and experience discouraging results for the first time.
"One thing I've learned in my short pro career thus far is that failure's part of the game," Walker said. "Every year, if you look back, I've struggled. And I was having this conversation with my mom this morning; every time I struggle, I learn something from it that makes me a lot better."
"Statistically, the game is a game of failure, and learning that, coming from not playing as much of baseball, I'm going to fail more often than I succeed. More than anything mechanically, it's the mental approach that I've gotten better at each year."
Walker is what baseball people call a raw talent. He was hands-down the best athlete in the organization before the Diamondbacks drafted Tyrell Worthington last summer. Like Worthington, Walker was an amateur two-way star, excelling both at football and at baseball. Unlike Worthington, Walker has junior college experience at Wabash Valley. Walker has found that the biggest difference from his approach as a football star and as a baseball player relates once again to his mentality."
"The intensity: sometimes, I have to turn it down a little bit," Walker said of his career in baseball. "I have to find a happy medium. You have to tame yourself, or you get out of control sometimes."
On Monday night, Walker hit a ball out of control. He mashed a three-run homer off a Miller Lite sign that sits above the scoreboard at Elfstrom Stadium. Teammate Taylor Harbin joked that he should try for the Bud Light sign even higher and deeper. I asked D-Walk after the game whether that was indeed a fastball that he turned on. He corrected me, saying that it was a fatball.
But Walker combines this raw power with blazing speed, which calls into question what kind of hitter he envisions himself as: a run producer or a table-setter?
"I know I've got some juice in my bat, but I let that decide itself," Walker told me. "I'm just focused on basically preparing myself every day and getting better each day, with each game, learning something to become better so I can become a big leaguer."
Right now, Walker is batting ninth for the Silver Hawks, as a second leadoff hitter like Jason Kendall with the Brewers, due to that speed, and a .214 batting average as compared to teammate Evan Frey's mark of .375. He's hoping that a few more jacks off of outfield landmarks will get him into a more prominent batting position.
The day after his homer, Walker provided a fantastic example of his developmental philosophy. He struck out in his first three at bats, also letting a ball bounce off his glove after a long run in right field. In his fourth at bat, he singled cleanly to left, then stole second base.
"I know I'm going to have success," he stated matter-of-factly. "In my mind, that's a given. I'm not worried about whether I'm going to hit day-to-day. I know that I'm going to hit. I know what kind of hitter I am. I know what I am capable of doing. And if I put in the work, I know that success is going to come eventually."
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