Walker returns to Coors with Cards
Former Rockies star enjoying opportunity to stay close to game
DENVER -- When first-base coach Dave McKay noticed a "strange feeling" in his shoulder and decided to take it easy on the field Monday, the Cardinals didn't have to look far for someone to fill his shoes as batting-practice pitcher. A quick look to the Colorado foothills he'd called home for 10 years found Cardinals and Rockies alum Larry Walker ready to jump into action.
"I don't have a job," Walker said, standing in front of a locker in the Cardinals' clubhouse with his old No. 33 jersey ready and waiting. "The Cardinals are kind enough to bring me to Spring Training to throw some BP, give the coaches a little relief, say a little bit here and there, and help out anyway I can, whatever they want me to. As it turned out, Dave McKay's hurt, he's not throwing, so at least I can throw a few groups and take some ease off the coaches' arms from throwing batting practice."
Walker spent Sunday night in the home he still maintains in the mountains above Denver -- he arrived just in time to find his water line broken and his basement flooded -- and he followed a makeshift map the visiting clubhouse attendant had drawn for him in case he'd forgotten the way to Coors Field.
Fat chance. Walker's return to the home field he helped inaugurate in 1995 brought back a flood of happy memories from his playing days with the Rockies, and though he had hoped for a chance to see the Colorado Avalanche playing a Game 6 playoff game in Denver on Monday night, their sweep at the hands of the Red Wings left him free to focus on baseball.
Walker has spent a couple years in his "guest instructor" role, and he's happy to maintain a connection to a Cardinals team that gave him the peak experience of his career in his only trip to the World Series in 2004, but he's not ready to think about upping the ante and considering a full-time coaching job.
"Possibly, down the road, yeah, but I've got an eight- and six-year-old at home, so I'm enjoying watching them grow up," Walker explained. "This is a way to stay in the game. They're kind enough to keep me around and keep my foot in the game, and somewhere down the road, when the kids grow up, maybe I'll be more interested. Right now, I'm enjoying the little bit that I'm doing."
Manager Tony La Russa recognizes the value in having someone of Walker's caliber around his players, even if it's only for a limited engagement. Walker was a five-time All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove winner, the 1997 National League Most Valuable Player, and a three-time batting champ.
"Larry's got a standing invite, and this was one [trip] that fit," La Russa said, outlining the benefit of having Walker around for the road trip to Colorado and Milwaukee. "He's just being himself -- observe and make any comment he wants to make. Be there in case anybody wants to ask him a question, which is likely to happen."
Walker had already talked a little baseball with Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan, but he downplayed his influence in a talented clubhouse.
"These guys got here because of what they have and what they've done to get here," Walker said. "You don't change their whole swing. [It's about] getting back to the basics -- getting your head in your program. A lot of times, guys go through slumps and their mindset gets all screwed up and they forget about mechanics. It doesn't take much to get it back."
It may sound like the talk of a future hitting coach, but for now, Walker is careful not to impose his perspective too heavily on the Cardinals players.
"I'm not a coach, so it's tough for me. I don't want to step on anybody's toes -- the real coaches," Walker said. "I try to keep it plain and simple and not get too carried away."
These days, if Walker wants to get carried away, it's going to be as a fan, and with the Cardinals missing the postseason last year, he was free to immerse himself in the excitement of watching the Rockies run to the World Series.
"It was great. I loved it," Walker said of watching the Rockies' magical run in September and October. "I was happy for [Rockies owner] Charlie Monfort. We've stayed friends through all this. We talked during the Series, and I was happy for him to get there. The guys that I still remember, it was a good feeling seeing them out there. I told Todd [Helton] after my World Series, it was the greatest experience ever. There's nothing better than playing in the World Series. It's still in my head like it happened yesterday."
And though he sounded ready to come back to Coors Field to witness last fall's festivities first-hand, Walker remained in Florida, enjoying it vicariously from a distance.
"There was a rumor that the Blake Street Bombers were throwing out a pitch here in the World Series, but I never got that call," Walker said, echoing a sentiment from old-timers and fans alike who were miffed that the Rockies took a pass on the opportunity to honor their past and the corps of sluggers who brought them their first trip to the postseason, in 1995. "[Rockies teammate Andres] Galarraga and I live near each other down there, so we had talked about it. He had heard it, too. It was exciting seeing the guys play."
Walker's Fall Classic moment came with the Cardinals, when Walker excelled as the Red Sox swept St. Louis in 2004, but the return to Colorado reminded him of another favorite moment, when the Rockies clinched the '95 Wild Card on the final day of the season.
"Any time you put plastic up in the room and throw champagne and sting the [heck] out of your eyes, that's above anything else," he said.
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.