Talking Steelers Football With Neil Walker
Neil Walker is a local kid who has made good, being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round in 2004 out of Pine-Richland High School.
Walker is currently the starting third baseman for the Pirates Triple A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians.
Walker, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area and has always been a Steelers fan, recently took time out to talk with Teresa Varley for Talking Steelers Football.
The following is what he had to say.
*How long have you followed the Steelers?
As early as I can remember I was watching Steelers games and being a huge fan. I remember waving the Terrible Towel around even when I was four or five years old. I have always been a big Steelers fan.
Who was your favorite player when you were growing up?
It always changed, but I liked Greg Lloyd and the linebackers they had. I also liked Carnell Lake. I would say Lloyd and Lake were my favorites.
You went to Super Bowl XL. What was that experience like for you?
It was phenomenal. It was a last second thing and I was fortunate enough to round up a ticket and went with some friends. Besides the weather being snowy and 15 degrees, the day was amazing and something I am not going to forget for a long time.
Did the turn out of Steelers fans at that game surprise you?
It was incredible. I am never surprised with the following for the Steelers everywhere I have gone. I spent a lot of time in Phoenix, Arizona and in Tampa, Florida where we have spring training and there are a crazy amount of Steelers fans in those places and everywhere I have gone. It didn't surprise me that there were that many there, but it was amazing the way they outnumbered the Seahawks fans.
How closely are you able to follow the Steelers now with your schedule?
I follow them very closely. When my season ends it's early September so Sunday's are pretty much open. I do play fall and winter ball, but still try to catch the games. Last year I was playing in Mexico from the beginning of October until the beginning of December. It was a three-hour time difference, but they seem to cover the Steelers games a lot down there. The only difference is the commentary is in Spanish. I saw every game. I would wake up early for the one o'clock games and at least log on to the Internet if it wasn't on television. I haven't missed a Steelers game, whether it be on television, radio or Internet, in probably 10 years.
Do you get the chance to see them play in person often?
I still live at home in Pittsburgh in the off-season and my family still lives in Pittsburgh, but it always seems to work out that when I am home I still have a lot of stuff I am doing. When I do get the opportunity to go, though, I do. I have a friend that has season tickets so I got when I get the opportunity. I probably make it to one a year.
What were your impressions of Mike Tomlin's first season as head coach?
I thought it was phenomenal. I thought he did a fantastic job. Hearing through the grapevine how well he did as an assistant other places I thought it was going to be a pretty good season. Being a Pittsburgh person and how the media handles change, especially with the Steelers, I thought people would be skeptical until they saw some good results. Even though they didn't make it far into the playoffs and the Super Bowl, I think people were happy with how things went. In my mind he did a phenomenal job with the team last year.
What kind of expectations do you have for the team this year?
I think it's going to be a good year. Looking at their schedule and what they have to work with and the guys back and those added to the team, I am not naïve to know it's going to be tough because of that schedule. I think within their own division they are going to do great. They always do great. I think they will be right in the thick of things once January rolls around. I never worry about the Steelers. I always feel like they are going to be very good. It's a tough division they are in, but they always seem to do well.
With your teammates is there a lot of banter back and forth as to whose favorite team is better and the like?
It is a hot topic, especially this time of year. People like to play fantasy football. They get hyped up about the teams where they are from. Everybody gets excited about their own teams. It makes for good clubhouse conversation. On the team I am on now there are a lot of Steelers fans and a lot of Browns fans so it makes for interesting conversation.
*Is there a current player on the Steelers roster that you enjoy watching and respect what they do on the field?
I have always been a Hines Ward fan. He is typical of what you think of when you think of a Steelers player. He is the guy you want out there. He might not get 150 yards a game and three touchdowns like some monster name receivers, but you know what you are going to get from him. He is going to give 110% and do what it takes to win. That is more important than all of the touchdowns and receptions. The blocking downfield that he does and the hustling are things that are really important. That's in every professional sport.
What would Ben Roethlisberger have a better chance of doing – throwing a guy out at second base from the catcher position or throwing a guy out at home plate from the outfield?
I think he would have a better chance of throwing somebody out from the outfield. With baseball and football you use momentum to your advantage - throwing out of the pocket, throwing off your back leg. Catching is a weird art. His strong arm would be more suited for the outfield.
*What current Steelers player would you like to have batting clean-up in your lineup? *I would have to say Casey Hampton. I think just his presence in the batters box would be scary enough. Whether he can hit the ball or not at least he could instill some fear into the opposing team.