by LEWIS WALKER
What if you got paid to do what you love and have grown up doing your whole life? This is the life of Keenyn Walker, who by the age of 20 was drafted twice before signing a contract to play professionally in major league baseball.
“I thought he was crazy not to leave once he was selected out of high school. Not many people are that blessed,” said Jeff Myaer, head baseball coach at Judge Memorial High School in Salt Lake City.
Of all the odds and breaks in life, Walker has been blessed with his share.
Walker who is currently a part of the Chicago White Sox farm league in the Single-A organization is stationed in Kannapolis, N.C. playing for the Intimidators. His journey before making it there may have been a whirlwind to most folks.
As a senior at Judge Memorial, Walker was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, but he turned down that deal and moved on, choosing instead to attend Central Arizona College( CAC) in Coolidge, Ariz., one of the powerhouses for college baseball. After his freshman year at CAC, Walker was drafted again, this time by the Phillies. “It was crazy when I was in high school and got drafted, but then again just a year later is humbling,” Walker said.
Denying the offers from the big league left Walker, a center fielder, wondering if he would get another chance. “After my freshman year of college was over and I turned down another chance to play baseball, my dreams kind of became a blur,” he said. “I didn’t think anyone else would draft me again because I had turned down two teams already.”
Some doubted Walker might get another chance at his dream. “I was drafted when I was in college. I know how hard it is to have that opportunity come your way, but three times is out of this world,” Myaer said.
With many people watching from the outside, few stood strong in his corner, Walker said. Except for one. “My mom has been a huge part in this whole journey,” he said. “When I doubted myself she had the right words to put me back on track to complete what I had set out to do a long time ago.”
“Keenyn is someone who just loves to play baseball,” said his mother, Lori Walker, of Salt Lake City. “In baseball you have ups and downs that come easily and it can transfer over to life as well.”
June 6, 2011 is a day Walker will always remember. “That day I was just at home with my family watching the draft,” he said. “Teams just kept calling me and saying they may take me at this pick,” he said. Nervously walking around waiting for his name to be announced, Walker continuously ate snacks to calm his nerves, as well as talking and joking with the few family members who were present.
“It was a family thing,” Walker said.
After all the hoping and waiting, Walker’s blurry dreams have finally become a reality. Now 21, he was selected as the first overall pick in the 2011 MLB draft for the Chicago White Sox.
“I wake up and I feel like it’s a dream,” Walker said over the phone while training in Phoenix. Being a professional athlete comes with a lot of responsibility, as well as temptations. “I have more money than my mother does now,” said Walker, laughing. But his mother thinks he’s doing just fine.
“I am proud of the decisions he made. Even though they were hard to make, he made the correct ones,” said Lori Walker. “It is crazy seeing my son become something he has wanted to become his whole life.”
“My schedule has been hectic, kind of,” Walker said. He wakes at 8 a.m., goes for a run and then heads to batting practice. He does interviews between ball games. There seems to be an endless number of items to autograph, such as rookie cards, helmets and photos. “Each day I sign about 500 items for people I don’t even know,” Walker said.
“I am so fortunate and blessed to be where I am right now,” Walker said. “This is so crazy. It still hasn’t hit me yet, even though I have already played six minor league games, moved my way up to the single A organization, and now in spring training.”
Although the process to the big leagues is a long bumpy road, things seem to be falling in place for Walker. “I guess the third time is a luck charm,” he said.
Photo credits: Clockwise from top left, Megan Wallo: Keenyn Walker: Central Arizona College, Athletics: Jim Shipman.