Mets introduce Walker at holiday party
New York's new second baseman dons No. 20 jersey as he takes part in festivities
NEW YORK -- Unlike Steven Matz, whose Santa suit covered him head to toe, and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, whose elf costume made him look more like a cartoon character than an outfielder, Neil Walker attended the Mets' annual holiday party on Tuesday wearing his jersey. It was the latest model, No. 20 -- his father's number, which Walker could never don in Pittsburgh because it was retired for Pie Traynor.
"I'm proudly wearing it here in New York," Walker said with a grin.
This was Walker's first public appearance as a member of the Mets, who traded Jon Niese for him during last week's Winter Meetings. And it came as part of a good cause; the Mets treated 135 New York City schoolchildren to lunch, presents and a visit from Santa -- Matz -- at their annual holiday party. Walker, Matz, Nieuwenhuis and a host of Mets front-office employees participated in the festivities, which also included Mr. and Mrs. Met.
Afterward, Walker echoed the excitement he expressed last week about joining the reigning National League champions.
"The talent in this locker room is really, really good," Walker said. "This is a team that obviously had a lot of success last year, and they know where they want to improve this year. I'm just excited to be a part of it."
After Walker was done handing out gifts to area schoolchildren, Mets manager Terry Collins confirmed the obvious: that Walker will play second base most every day next season, with Wilmer Flores filling in on occasion. Flores, whose role has evolved into that of a super-utility player, will also back up David Wright at third base, Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop and Lucas Duda at first.
The idea is to put Flores in the best situation to succeed while keeping starters such as the switch-hitting Walker, who has hit 87 of his 93 career home runs against right-handed pitchers, as fresh as possible on a weekly basis.
"He's an addition," Collins said. "Believe me, I have only great things to say about Dan Murphy and the job he did. We had to make a decision not knowing where we were going to go with Murph. This came about and … he's a big piece. He's a quality player who knows how to win. He's been on winners, and we think he's going to make a big difference to our club."
For now, Walker is just settling in. He arrived in New York City on Tuesday morning with plans to spend the rest of this week checking out potential places to live with his wife. By Spring Training, both Walker and the Mets hope he will be settled in as a significant cog for the team.
"Certainly, the last six days have been a whirlwind for myself and my family, but my wife and I were excited to get up here," Walker said. "Obviously, coming into this situation is really exciting. It's a great opportunity to do the same thing they did last year and more. I'm just looking forward to helping this team, and hopefully Met nation has me as one of their own."