09/18/12 11:00 AM ET
For Team Canada, Walker will drop everything
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
Walker might just be the most celebrated Canadian hitter. He spent 17 seasons in the Major Leagues, which meant he spent a lot of time away from home while picking up the National League MVP Award in 1997, seven Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers and making five All-Star teams.
Walker still loves baseball, but family is now his priority.
"I have children," Walker told MLB.com. "My playing days took me away from them when they were younger. So when they have stuff going on -- birthdays and gymnastics and soccer and things like that -- I'm hesitant to leave. That means the world to me, more than anything else."
There's only one thing that can pull him away: Team Canada. Which is why Walker found himself throwing batting practice at a workout last week as the Canadian national team prepared for the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic. The first opponent on Thursday in Regensberg, Germany, will be Great Britain.
"It means a lot," said Walker, who will serve as the hitting coach. "This is the only thing I commit to. I don't do anything else in baseball. The only thing I'll do is for stuff with Team Canada. I do this because it's where I'm from, and it's fun to watch these guys come up and play and the game grow in our country.
"It's grown so much over the last 20 years since I broke into the big leagues in 1989. It's been amazing to watch. We don't have to go from town to town to take polls on who can play baseball to make up a team. We can actually pick a team with relative ease. And it's a team that can actually compete. I think the Pan Am Games are evident of that."
Walker is referring to last October's competition in Guadalajara, Mexico, when Canada beat the United States, 2-1, in the final game to win his country's first goal medal in international baseball competition.
"It shows that it's not just about ballplayers, it's about ballplayers with ability," Walker said.
Team Canada also won the bronze at the 2009 World Cup in Italy, its first medal, then followed it up with another bronze in '11 in Panama City.
Walker was the second great player to come out of Canada, following Hall of Fame right-hander Ferguson Jenkins. Since then, however, a steady stream of talent has come from north of the border, including 2006 American League MVP Award winner Justin Morneau, 2010 NL MVP Award winner Joey Votto and All-Stars like Eric Gagne, Jason Bay, Russell Martin, John Axford, Terry Puhl, Paul Quantrill, Jeff Zimmerman and Jason Dickson.
Walker takes most of his joy from watching the players. A few (Trystan Magnuson, Shawn Hill and Mike Johnson) have big league experience. Most, however, aren't on 40-man rosters.
"These guys play with so much pride," Walker said. "If you see all the other countries -- and I'm not saying they don't play with pride and passion -- but I think in Canada, these guys play with more pride and passion than any other country.
"It's evident on the field when you see us win a game, especially big games, teams that nobody expects you to beat, you can see how much it means -- even over in Italy a few years ago at the World Cup when we got the bronze. Just the excitement from winning the bronze the first time we'd ever won a medal in that event. Guys were going just absolutely nuts. And to sit there and watch it and witness it, it was a huge treat for me and the other coaches."
In the inaugural Classic in 2006, Team Canada went 2-1 in the first round, including an upset of the United States, but failed to advance on tiebreakers. In '09, Canada finished 13th overall after going 0-2 in the first round, necessitating a trip to the qualifying round this year.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.