PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – The morning after being traded to the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher Jonathan Niese, former Pirates second baseman Neil Walker joined The Fan Morning Show to speak to the Pittsburgh media for the first time since being dealt by his hometown team.
Walker is 30-years-old and coming off a 16 home run, 71 RBI season.
He says since the trade news broke on Wednesday, it's been a "whirlwind."
"After yesterday was done, and it's certainly been a whirlwind the last 14, 16 hours... but yeah, I wake up today as a Met," said Walker.
A Pittsburgh native, Walker says he's proud to have gotten a chance to wear a black and gold uniform and to have been part of the city falling in love with its baseball team again.
"I just kept going back to how proud I am to be from this city, and to be from this area and to grow up here, and how great people are here, how fortunate I feel to be raised in this community and how great of a place it was to grow up," Walker said.
"Obviously, I grew up as a Pirates fan, and I got to live the dream of many young kids to play for their hometown team and to be a part of meaningful baseball," he added. "I feel very proud to be a part of the resurgence here, but more than that, the fan base is just incredible, and that's something I'm certainly going to miss."
He says he's also grateful for all the love and support he's gotten from the fans.
"The support that I've gotten [here], it's something that I'll cherish forever," Walker added.
In his seven seasons playing for the Pirates, Walker hit .272 with 93 home runs and 418 RBIs while anchoring the second base position. He says he would have liked to have been with the Bucs for his whole career.
"Absolutely, that was my goal from day one," said Walker. "Without getting into too much detail, unfortunately, it just didn't happen to where we were able to find any common ground, and, you know, that's neither here nor now. We're moving on, but yeah, I think that's something that was very unfortunate with how everything has gone over the last couple years here in Pittsburgh."
Walker also talked about whether he'd have been willing to move to first base to stay with the Pirates.
"Absolutely, yeah. I think that's something that I wanted to do, and if you don't believe me, look at how many positions I've played in my career for this organization. That's something that I told them," he said. "I said I'm willing to do whatever it takes, but then it gets a little more complicated as time moves along; and like I said, unfortunately, that bridge was never really crossed over these last couple years."
He says though that baseball is a business after all.
"You do have to remind yourself that it's a business," said Walker, "but I think given my circumstances of being from here and being the longest-tenured player in the organization to this point, I felt like maybe the operation could have gone a little smoother over the last several years."
The second baseman says the lack of progress on an extension did have an impact on him.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect me from just kind of a mental standpoint. You play and you play, and you try to help the team, you try to produce, and you hope that things maybe can go a little smoother, and unfortunately, that wasn't the case," Walker said. "I don't have any ill feelings towards anybody in the organization, but certainly, you look back and you kind of wish that things could have gone a little smoother in some avenues."
Walker says he has no regrets though.
"I have zero regrets. I really do. It's obviously unfortunate how we weren't able to come to any kind of common ground over my six-plus years here, but it is a business, and that's kind of the ugly part of the business that sometimes it doesn't quite work out maybe the way you think it's going to work out," said Walker. "But I have zero regrets about how things went, and I'm very fortunate with the opportunity that I was given here in Pittsburgh."
The Mets come to PNC Park for the first time since the trade on June 6, 2016.
"That'll be a very emotional series for me, and very strange," said Walker. "I'll have to get used to looking down and seeing blue and orange on my chest, as opposed to black and gold."
He says his Pirates teammates are sad to see him go, but he's also excited for a new opportunity.
"I think they were as shocked as I was," said Walker. "They were all so supportive of me. [I'm] very sad to see it go. I've grown very close to a lot of the guys, and there's so much talent here. People in Pittsburgh should be very excited about the guys that are still here."
"I had a good conversation with [Terry Collins] last night, and with Sandy Alderson, and David Wright gave me a call, too," said Walker. "It's going to be an exciting and different spring training. I've played for a long time. I've had a lot of different teammates, just not in a different uniform than a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, so certainly an exciting opportunity I have in front of me."
With Walker gone, the Pirates now have vacancies at second base, and first base.
The interview can be heard here:
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