Cards No. 1 prospect Walker, family share in joy

March 26th, 2023

This story was excerpted from John Denton's Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Getting Cardinals top prospect Jordan Walker to this point, where he is now on the cusp of making his MLB debut at the tender age of 20, has always been a family affair with loads of support and guidance.

So, it was only fitting that when the 6-foot-5 phenom had big news to share Saturday, he made sure his closest family members -- minus his baby sister, Maya, who was busy at college in Connecticut -- were dialed in to share in the joy together.

Walker had his father, Derek, sitting next to him in his tiny Jupiter, Fla., apartment, while mother Katrina, older brother Derek Jr., and his two grandmothers joined in on a FaceTime call. Derek, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Katrina, a Harvard grad with a master’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis, instilled in their son patience, smarts, maturity and togetherness while he grew up in suburban Atlanta. Those values served as guideposts throughout Jordan’s early fame and his meteoric rise through baseball’s ranks.

Simultaneously, the Walker family learned that the precocious, young Jordan had made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster and would soon head to St. Louis to begin his MLB career. Of course, the family is heading there too, but first, a celebration was in order.

“We had been holding our breath in the last week because the results have been less than stellar, and we didn’t know if that would affect anything,” Derek said. “We’re happy that the Cardinals felt he showed enough early on in camp when he excelled.”

“We thought back to my grandfather, Jordan’s great grandfather, Adolphus, and Jordan’s grandfather -- my father -- Joseph Wingfield,” added Derek, referring to the two men who passed down the love of baseball to a father and son. “Both of them have passed now, but we were thinking about them looking down from heaven and obviously being pretty happy. It’s an amazing feeling for all of us.”

Derek and Katrina purchased their flights to Opening Day in St. Louis months ago, riding the belief that their son had what it took to make the big leagues without ever stepping foot in Triple-A. What Walker did this spring -- smashing three home runs and five doubles and leading the Grapefruit League in hitting for much of camp -- invoked memories of a then 21-year-old slugger named Albert Pujols, who hit his way onto the Cardinals 22 years ago.

The way the Walker family sees it, Jordan’s arrival at Busch Stadium isn’t ahead of schedule at all. In fact, Derek said, it’s long overdue.

“When Jordan was drafted, generally the tradition of the Cardinals is to bring their Draft picks to a game, but Jordan was drafted during COVID, so he got none of that experience,” Derek recalled. “We went up to the stadium and toured it [this past January] with no one there, and it was a ghost town. Jordan always felt like he missed out on that experience, so it will be nice to be able to recoup some of that.”

Already, the Walkers are expecting as many as 15 friends, family members and youth coaches in attendance Thursday at Busch Stadium. Many of them have been peppering Derek’s phone for weeks asking for updates about his star son. The dad admits that he will likely be watching his son’s debut “through happy tears.” He’s most in awe, however, at how many of the Cardinals’ brass have raved about the prodigy’s graceful handling of baseball’s roller coaster of emotions.

“As a dad, that makes me as proud as any of this stuff,” Derek said of Jordan weathering a mini-slump over the final two weeks of Spring Training. “Baseball is his profession, and how he’s dealing with the highs and lows is excellent, but it’s really a life lesson for him, period. How you deal with things is so important, and we’re so ecstatic that’s something that is intrinsic within him. When others see the same thing, it just makes us so happy.”