With a British-born father, there was an expectation that soccer just might be James Walker’s natural sport of choice.
As an independent-minded kid growing up in Kelowna, Walker had other ideas.
“Because my dad is from England, I think it was just assumed I would play soccer,” said Walker, 16, a Grade 10 student at KSS.
“I guess I just wanted to be different, I wanted to play another sport. I remember watching the Blue Jays on T.V. and thinking baseball looked like a sport I could play. Maybe it was the hand-eye coordination, I thought it would work me. If anything, I just wanted some independence, to be able to make my own decision.”
While no one will ever know if Walker would have excelled on the soccer pitch, it’s clear the Kelowna teenager possesses a special talent for throwing a baseball.
In his first season with the B.C. Premier Baseball League’s Okanagan Athletics, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound pitcher is putting up numbers more befitting a veteran ace than a tentative rookie.
In five appearances with the the A’s, Walker has posted a 2-0 record, with 27 strikeouts (third in PBL) and a 1.04 ERA (sixth). Even more impressive is the paltry 13 hits Walker has allowed in 27 innings while pitching in one of the best developmental leagues of its kind in Canada.
Walker, the youngest player on the A’s regular roster, has impressed his head coach with both his mental and physical approach to the game.
“He’s given us so much confidence when he’s out there on the mound,” said A’s coach Evan Bailey. “Every time he pitches, he gives us a chance to win. He’s mentally tough, he’s focused, and he’s very mature in the way he prepares for games.
“I’ve seen other 16 year olds throw with velocity,” Bailey added, “but I sure haven’t seen many throw with so much poise, confidence or maturity. His body language is like that of a much older, more experienced player.”
No matter how big the game or challenge, Bailey said there is no fear in Walker who takes with him to the mound with a “bulldog attitude.”
Other keys to Walker’s success, says Bailey, is his ability to pitch economically— keeping his pitch count low—and his willingness to challenge hitters.
From Walker’s perspective, each and every delivery to home plate is crucial.
“You can’t look past the moment, you have a job to get this guy out and you have to execute that pitch,” said Walker, who played one season each with bantam A’s and junior A’s, before stepping up to the PBL in 2012. “Every pitch has a meaning, so I take it one at a time.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to get the win,” he added, “but my job is to keep our team in the game and give us a chance to win, to try and win every pitch. If I do that the numbers will take care of themselves.”
Prior to the start of the season, head coach Evan Bailey didn’t believe he had a bona fide ace in his starting rotation, but admits the emergence of Walker may alter that thinking somewhat.
Still, Walker assures he’s not about to let his early success get the better of him.
“I wouldn’t consider myself the No. 1 pitcher, I haven’t really proven myself yet,” he said. “I have confidence in my teammates and they have confidence in me, so that’s the most important thing. If success comes for me along with it, then that’s great. Right now I just want to keep improving and help my team win games.”
The league-leading A’s have already racked up their share of victories (12-4) and are well on the way to posting the best record ever by a Kelowna-based PBL team.
Walker, for one, is enjoying the ride.
“It’s been great so far,” Walker said. “The guys have got a bit of a swagger going right now, so it’s fun. We feel like we can take on anybody.”
Walker and the Athletics are in Calgary this weekend for a tournament.
The A’s return to PBL action May 12 and 13 at Elks Stadium against the White Rock Tritons.