A first for Walker, a last for Wainwright in hometown Atlanta

September 4th, 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.

There will undoubtedly be plenty of fanfare over Brunswick, Ga., native and former Braves top prospect  pitching in Atlanta this week for the final time in his career, but there will emotions of a different kind with prized rookie playing an MLB game back in his home state for the first time.

The 42-year-old Wainwright and the 21-year-old Walker have careers headed in dramatically different directions, but their returns to Georgia will be greeted by similar receptions: Both are expecting more than 100 friends and family in the stands at Truist Field when the Cards face the surging Braves Tuesday through Thursday.

Wainwright’s scheduled Sunday start was pushed back to help him better recover from a strong outing earlier in the week, meaning he will pitch in Atlanta for the final time. In his 18-year career, Wainwright has been much more effective at home -- 107 wins, 3.02 ERA -- than on the road -- 91 victories, 4.13 ERA -- daunting numbers for someone still hoping to get two more victories and 200 for his career. All-time, Wainwright is 10-4 with a 3.42 ERA against the Braves franchise that drafted him 29th overall in 2000 and traded him to the Cards on Dec. 13, 2003. He was 4-1 at Turner Field, and he’s 1-1 at Truist Field with a complete-game victory to his credit.

Walker was 1 1/2 years old and living in Stone Mountain, Ga., when Wainwright was traded from the Braves to the Cardinals. Much the way the 6-foot-7 Wainwright blossomed into a big league ace out of Georgia, the 6-foot-6 Walker became The Peach State’s Gatorade Athlete of the Year as a junior at Decatur High School in suburban Atlanta. Walker was headed to Duke on a baseball scholarship before the Cards made him the 21st pick of the 2020 MLB Draft.

Playing big league baseball in Atlanta, the city where three generations of family fell in love with the game, and where Jordan idolized Chipper Jones and constantly pestered dad, Derek, to take him to Braves games, is sure to spark memories for him and his family.

“There are going to be a lot of emotions, man,” said Walker, who will hit Atlanta riding a six-game hitting streak and a stretch when he has homered in three of his last four games. “I’ve already had a lot of my friends who said they’re coming to the game to support me, but they’re still going to rep their Braves. So, I’m just excited to go back there. I grew up going to games at Turner Field, but now I’ll be at the new park where I saw a few games while I was in high school. We used to go to Braves games all the time, and that was always one of the best experiences for our family, going to those games. So, I’m so excited to go back there and play there.”

For the Walkers, the celebration will begin not long after the Cardinals charter touches down in Atlanta on Monday afternoon. Jordan will head straight to his home in suburban Atlanta for a family grill out and he’s hoping his father will make the tacos he loves so dearly. And not only will Walker have 150 to 200 friends and family in the stands at Truist Field, they’ll also be sitting close to right field where Jordan will be positioned.

“It’s going to be so cool and special for our family,” Walker said.