Larry Walker grew up wanting to be a hockey player. He ended up playing baseball -- and playing it well. The British Columbia native was the National League MVP Award winner in 1997, as well as a five-time All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner and a three-time Silver Slugger
Larry Walker grew up wanting to be a hockey player. He ended up playing baseball -- and playing it well. The British Columbia native was the National League MVP Award winner in 1997, as well as a five-time All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove Award winner and a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner.
Now in retirement, Walker admits the game still has a hold on him. Only this time, his involvement is as a coach for Team Canada in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, a squad managed by former big league catcher Ernie Whitt.
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The Canadian team opens play in Miami on March 9 against the Dominican Republic in Pool C, which also features the United States and Colombia.
Walker discussed the World Baseball Classic and his retirement in this week's Q&A:
MLB.com: What's the attraction of coaching in the World Baseball Classic?
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Walker: It is a little bit of everything, I guess. It's fun in the aspect [that] I don't have to play. There are the pressures that I've never known before as a non-player. You're sitting there as a coach, and it is a different pressure that you put on yourself. It is more, "Well, I hope that these guys can succeed," whereas when I played, it was like, "I hope I can succeed." It's just a different feeling as far as having the uniform on. It's also fun having your country's name slapped on the front of your chest. It's a pretty cool honor, and I think all the players agree with that when they say why they want to play on it so bad. And that's one of the reasons.
MLB.com: How did you get involved with Team Canada?
Walker: When I retired, Greg Hamilton, who is the director of [national] baseball [teams] in Canada, reached out to me. There was always that interest in doing it, to see these young kids, and a lot of them I played against, the [Justin] Morneaus, [Joey] Vottos. And it's more than the [World Baseball Classic]. We were over at [a] tournament in Taiwan. The qualifier for the World Cup was in Germany. There's another [tournament] in Sweden and Italy. It's not only fun being with these guys, but you get to travel around and hang out with them. It's like being on the road with your team. And I miss those days, the social part of baseball. When you retire, your teammates are gone, so this is a pretty good chance every year or two to be able to do it again.
MLB.com: Does it get you thinking about maybe coaching on a full-time basis?
Walker: I retired, and I was done. I am not the running back from the Seattle Seahawks, Marshawn Lynch, but I wasn't big on interviews -- being seen, being heard, all that stuff. It just didn't interest me, and I think you can see that since I've retired. I don't say "yes" to a lot of things. I really don't do a lot of interviews. [Former agent] Jim Bronner reached out about the Hall of Fame, and how I should get involved and promote myself. I just said, "No, no, no," to everything. That's not me. I'm done. My time is up.
MLB.com: But you never had a bad relationship with the media.
Walker: No, it's not like that. It was more about me, my needs. When I retired, I was grateful enough, and honored enough, to be inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. I've been in the B.C. Hall of Fame. You know, I had to go to all of those banquets. When they called to tell me, "Hey, we're putting you in." I said, "Oh, that's great." And I would hang up the phone, and it was like, "Oh [no], I've got to go to that banquet and be in front of everybody?" The stage fright that I get, it's no different to doing stuff with the media. I didn't hate people along the way. I did it.
MLB.com: You always seemed to be at your best in postgame sessions when things weren't going well.
Walker: When things go well, you're doing well, people would ask about me, and I didn't want to talk about me. That's where a lot of times there were the questions I didn't know how to answer. It would be, "You are on quite a run, Larry," and I'd be like, "Yep." I don't know. It just wasn't something I was comfortable with.
MLB.com: So you have missed the comradery, but you don't miss the day in and day out grind of the game?
Walker: When I retired, I felt I made the right decision. I'm still not 100 percent convinced on it, but I think I did. My neck, with the herniated disk, I probably would have had to get that fixed. I had had enough injuries. I ran into enough things, slid enough times and tore enough things. I just felt like, I wasn't going through another rehab. Could I have played a little bit more? I probably could have played another year or two. Who knows? I had to make a decision. I made it quick, and stuck to it. I wasn't going to be a boxer and come out of retirement three times.
MLB.com: Has there been a particular game or moment in coaching Team Canada that has stood out?
Walker: For sure, that one thing that jumps out immediately for me was the Pan Am games in Toronto, where we beat the U.S. in extra innings. My screensaver on my computer is still me jumping into the celebration. Someone was behind me, taking a picture, and I'm up in the air with my hands and I'm running in. I remember telling Peter Orr when he was on first base he was going to score the winning run. I said, "You're going to slide in, and I'm going to run right past you to the coaches." And that's exactly what I did. I watched the video, and I ran right by everybody. Somebody grabbed me and jumped, and I threw them off and went right to the coaches. It was a gold medal, and we earned it by beating the United States. The United States, Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic -- those are the powerhouses. Canada, we don't quite have the reservoir of players the other countries do, so when we beat them, it is the best.
MLB.com: It's about national pride?
Walker: Sure. We go to tournaments, and there might be one player from four years earlier on some of those teams. They have so many new players, because they have so many players to choose from. In Canada, we might have one new player on our roster. It is basically the same guys for us. You look at the [World Baseball Classic]. We have Peter Orr, who is retired, but he's going to play for his country. Guys like Eric Gagne and Ryan Dempster are coming out of retirement. It is nuts.
MLB.com: So are you going to surprise everybody and play yourself?
Walker: No. I'm done. I'm retired. There's no thought of playing.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy.