The Pittsburgh Pirates begin a three game series versus the New York Mets at PNC Park beginning Monday night.
For the first time since being traded to the Big Apple in December, former Pirates second baseman Neil Walker makes his return to the Steel City. Though many fans wish the Pittsburgh Kid was still wearing the black & gold, they are sure to give Walker a standing ovation when he steps in for his first plate appearance.
Walker left a lasting legacy in Pittsburgh. After being drafted in the first round out of Pine-Richland High School as a catcher, he eventually moved to second base with the help of hall of famer Bill Mazeroski. The switch to second paid off when he was called up to the big leagues in September 2009. He never looked back.
When Walker took over as the everyday second baseman the following year, the Pirates were one of the worst teams in baseball. But as one of the key cogs along with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, he would help lead the franchise out of the abyss. In 2013, the Pirates won a playoff game for the first time since their last postseason appearance in 1992.
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Despite his success and popularity in Pittsburgh, Pirates management could never work out a deal with Walker to keep him in his hometown. The rumor was the second baseman wanted $13 million per season while the front office was looking to pay him around $10 million. Neither side budged from their offer. He even offered to play first base after the club gave up on defensive liability Pedro Alvarez.
Now with the Mets, Walker is so far proving that he is worth $13 million a year. Currently he is on pace to set career highs in home runs, batting average, slugging and OBP. As it stands, New York has won the Walker trade. They sent Jon Niese to Pittsburgh in exchange for the infielder.
When the trade went down back in December, many folks felt like the Mets were simply dumping the veteran lefty on the Pirates. Despite a 5-2 record, Niese has struggled. His ERA sits at 4.36 and he has given up 12 home runs. Ironically, the former Met is on tap to pitch tonight against his old club. What’s more ironic is he wears Walker’s old number 18.
Even with their ugly split this offseason, Pirates should give Walker a video tribute prior to the game and play is old walk up music when he steps in for his first at-bat. Look for the Pittsburgh Kid to put on a show in front of the hometown crowd and go yard if not tonight but sometime in this series.