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Getting such a late start in baseball meant that he had to do a lot of extra work. That instructional-league season led to another rookie-league season, which led to another instructional-league season, which led to another.... There has been a lot of hitting, hitting, hitting. Brett says one of Walker's best assets was "good ears." He listened. He learned. There was one scary moment, major surgery to his right knee that kept him out of the entire 1988 season, but the rest of his growth chart has shown a consistent rise. The rise has been built on hard work.
"I'd be back here every year in the instructional league," Walker says, sitting in the bullpen at Municipal Stadium in West Palm. "The heat in the locker room would be about 180 degrees. No air-conditioning. You'd put on dirty uniforms, go back out there. They'd give you a cup of soup and an orange every day for lunch. One cup of juice. No more. We'd go down to that dirt diamond in the back, just work forever. We called the place Iwo Jima."
Walker is a superstitious man, especially about the number 3, and maybe that has helped. He wears number 33 and he was married on Nov. 3 at 3:33 and his phone number has as many threes in it as he can get the phone company to give him, and he takes three swings in the batter's box before he hits, six if he feels tight, or nine or 12, any multiple of three. Whatever. Something has worked. He has the $3 million, and there will probably be a lot more money in the future.
"Barry Bonds had a great season last year, and Gary Sheffield had a great season, but Larry Walker can put together numbers as good as any of them," Duquette says. "He's in that class. He's the type of player who can win a team a pennant. He's getting better and better."
In 1990, his first full season with the Expos, Walker read a comment from Buck Rodgers, who was then the manager. A reporter had said to Rodgers that this Walker kid looked as if he belonged in the big leagues. Rodgers said, "No, he doesn't belong. Not yet. The day will come, though, and he'll know he belongs, and he'll be something to watch." Walker was shocked when he read those words, thought he was being criticized, but now thinks they were absolutely right.
"It was two years ago, Opening Day," he says, no trace of a Canadian accent left, a tan on his face in the middle of the winter. "I looked around the ballpark and felt good about the opening of the season. I said to myself, Hey this is where I should be. I belong. I really felt it. I belong."
True, all true.