Walker embraces Montreal memories
Canadian baseball legend hopes to grow game in native land
MONTREAL -- There’s no shortage of players that Larry Walker idolized when he was growing up.
But when it comes to the qualities those players embodied, there’s something a little different from the qualities that he is now idolized for.
“They had to be able to go into the corner and fish the puck out and get to the front of the net,” Walker said. “And don’t be afraid to throw the gloves off, knock them around, and then score a goal here and there, and then you’re good.”
Walker grew up in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, in a hockey-mad country that he believes is not just beginning to make its mark in the baseball world, but is allowing each coming generation a whole new set of realistic dreams to pursue.
“The talent level coming from our country is a lot better,” he said. “There are a lot more kids who are players. There are a lot more idols for them to look up to who have played, or are playing right now, and they’re not just average players. We could actually field a Major League team full of All-Stars and be pretty good.
“Those days didn’t exist for me. So a lot of these kids are seeing that and realizing that maybe their dreams could happen.”
Walker’s baseball dreams first came true when he was 22 years old and making his Major League debut for the Montreal Expos. He went on to hit .313/.400/.565 over 17 big league seasons, racking up 383 career home runs, 1,311 RBIs and posting a 72.7 WAR among his time with the Expos, Rockies and Cardinals.
The 52-year-old returned to Olympic Stadium on Monday, where he was honoured alongside several other former Expos, ahead of the Blue Jays’ exhibition game against the Brewers.
“This was my first home,” Walker said. “So the memories are endless. And there are good and bad -- they’re both there. I don’t just remember the bad and I don’t just remember the good. So it’s all part of the big circle of putting on the uniform and having the seasons we had and the seasons we didn’t have.”
Though the Expos left much to be desired before departing Montreal, Walker hopes that the city can prove that it might someday be able to sustain another team and return big league baseball to another Canadian home.
“Strictly speaking to Montreal, this is a good thing,” Walker said. “Having the games on a Monday and Tuesday, it’s a chance for the people of Montreal to step out of the weekend thing and fill this place up on a weekday. That would give more credibility to them trying to get a team back here. Anybody can draw 50,000 on a weekend. So hopefully these seats fill up.”
Looking forward to seeing the continued growth of baseball in Canada, in Montreal or otherwise, Walker has had a hard time realizing that he is now among the idols for young Canadian baseball players to look up to, but he is embracing the role.
“It’s an honour,” Walker said. “It makes you feel old I guess, but makes you feel proud as well. It’s neat to hear those guys say those things and I’m grateful for it.”