Greetings from Music City! This week we will be posting updates from the annual Baseball Winter Meetings, held this year in Nashville.
By Rob Egan
NASHVILLE – While it wasn’t a shock to hear of Neil Walker being traded to the New York Mets on Wednesday afternoon, it’s still hard news for fans in Western Pennsylvania to digest.
Simply put, he’s one of ours. From his days as a two-sport star at Pine-Richland High School until his final at bat as a Pirate in the National League Wild Card Game in October, the Pittsburgh Kid has done his team, his city, and his region proud. We’ve been fortunate as fans of the Curve and Pirates to see his talents first hand at our ballparks.
From the time we first saw him in Altoona as a guest at the Curve’s Hot Stove Banquet in January 2005 (just months after the Pirates selected in the first round in June 2004), Walker always handled himself with class, humility, and a quiet resolve to be a key player in the Bucs’ resurgence. There were professional bumps along the way: Changing positions from catcher to third base while playing for the Curve in 2006, temporarily falling out of favor with team management because of a perceived hustle issue while playing for Indianapolis, and switching positions again to play second base at the Major League level because the Pirates were out of options at the time. Walker handled each challenge with the aforementioned qualities and never complained. As a result of his talent and character, Walker has gone on to become one of the best second basemen in the game.
The irony is that Walker’s success comes with a price that the Pirates couldn’t justify paying over the long term. Both the Pirates and Walker knew that his market value would probably not be realized with his hometown team and, honestly, neither “side” was wrong. So, the Pirates, faced with the business reality of the situation, agreed to trade him to the Mets for lefty starting pitcher Jon Niese.
This is an equitable trade as Pittsburgh received a legitimate, durable, middle-of-the-rotation pitcher and can retain him for up to three years at a reasonable cost in exchange for Walker. That doesn’t mean the deal was easy. Pirates’ President Frank Connelly took the rare step of trumpeting Walker’s accomplishments on and off the field in the team’s news release about the deal. Coonelly doesn’t do that with the vast majority of transactions but he and the Pirates know this will sting the fan base in the short term and will be fodder for second-guessing. But, Pirates’ management is used to second-guessing and they’ve come through it the last three years with a pretty strong track record of success.
In other news from the Curve’s time here at the Winter Meetings, staff newcomers Mike Kessling and Michelle Gravert worked the floor at the baseball trade show finding the latest and greatest in promotions and merchandise, while ticket director Corey Homan enjoyed his second journey to Nashville for the meetings and looked for new talent for our front office staff. Our contingent also attended the Eastern League meeting on Wednesday where we learned more about the 2016 All-Star Game to be played in Akron. In addition to the festivities for the fans at Canal Park on July 12-13, league executives, coaches, and players will be able to tour the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, or play golf at Akron’s iconic Firestone Country Club. I’ll be going to the Rock and Roll Hall. No one at Firestone wants to see how many divots I can make on their pristine grounds.
See you back in Curve, PA!