Sylacauga’s baseball team doesn’t have any official captains, but if you asked any of the Aggies to point out the captain, coach Jeff Bell said his players would single out senior Grant Walker.
“When he is on the mound, our kids think we’re going to win and that is one of those subtle things that make him a leader,” Bell said. “They know when Grant pitches we’ve got a really good chance to win today and he does it without a lot of flash or arrogance. He just kinda goes about his business.”
At times this season, Bell has considered pulling Walker only to find himself swept up in that same confident energy his players get whenever Walker has the ball in his hand for the Aggies (6-5).
This season Walker struck out 31 batters in 24 innings pitched. The ones that don’t strikeout aren’t having much luck either as they are averaging .155 at the plate against the senior this year. Walker’s ERA is 3.5.
“He doesn’t have to throw a ball through the backstop to get somebody out,” Bell said, comparing Walker to his younger self. “He just has to do it the way he does it and focus on the execution of the pitch … It’s way more effortless this year.”
Effortless, that same word could apply to the senior’s appearances at the plate this year. Through the first 10 games, Walker recorded a hit on 21 of his 37 at-bats for an average of .568. He’s also hit six doubles and recorded 22 RBIs.
Then, of course, there’s the 3-run home run Walker sent sailing over the fence to tie things up in the sixth inning against Munford on Feb. 23.
“It’s still a tie game, but everyone in our dugout knew that game was over the minute he hit that ball out,” Bell said.
Walker hit 5-for-5 at the plate that day. That, in combination with the timely home run, makes it his best game this season, at least as far as his offense is concerned.
“It’s a great moment, it’s always an amazing moment when you know you did something for the team,” Walker said of his home run. “Especially that big and that late in the game.”
Consistent performances on the field are great, but Bell said that just scratches the surface of the impact Walker has on this team.
“He’s the first one that sets the field up,” Bell said. “It is easy to be the senior and go tell the freshman to go and put the tarps on, but he is the first one out there that goes and does that. Man, he has changed light-years.”
Walker isn’t the only player that has undergone a dramatic transformation in the last 12 months. Bell said his whole senior class has approached this season with an energy and focus unseen before.
“From the day that season got shut down last year, those guys, they never stopped hitting, they never stopped lifting weights, they never quit throwing,” Bell said. “They just sort of parlayed the shut down into lets get ready for senior year.”
These eight seniors didn’t just work harder. Walker said they decided to do things differently and set a new standard of leadership for the program.
“All the seniors, whenever I was younger, they were great leaders, but they were always ‘if you don’t do it this way then just get off the field or don’t come,’” Walker said. “But I think all of our seniors now, and our leaders now would rather help you do something right instead.”