Walker making a difference with Braves

sports@macon.comMarch 26, 2013 

Greg Walker thought he was finished with baseball. He had a good nine-year playing career in the big leagues, mostly with the Chicago White Sox.

When he was done as a player, Walker went back home to Douglas. He wanted to raise his family and live a simple life in south Georgia.

But Jerry Reinsdorf, Chicago’s owner, kept hounding him about coaching. Reinsdorf felt Walker could carry on the tradition of Charlie Lau, Chicago’s legendary hitting coach, who died of cancer in 1984.

Lau was Walker’s first hitting coach in the big leagues. His first manager was Tony La Russa. His first third-base coach was Jim Leyland.

“They really changed my life,” Walker said last week. “They had a lot to do with me being able to survive in the big leagues and play as long as I did.”

So Walker got back into it. He first worked in Triple-A, with Chicago’s affiliate in Charlotte. It was a little closer to home, so he was able to see his kids more often.

Then Walker got the call to the majors, and for the next eight-and-a-half years, he was Chicago’s hitting coach. He was on the staff when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005.

But a little more than a year ago, Walker got called home to Georgia. Jim Fregosi, another one of his former managers in Chicago and now a scout for the Braves, encouraged Walker to apply for the hitting coach job in Atlanta.

Walker had grown up as a Braves fan. He’s a Georgia guy. It was a perfect fit.

And it was a perfect fit for the Braves, too. His predecessor, Larry Parrish, had just not worked out. There were communications issues. But that’s the least of Walker’s problems. Just mention hitting, and you might not get him to stop talking.

If you get to the park early enough, you’ll find Walker in the cages, working with his hitters. Last year, Walker helped fix Jason Heyward. This year, Dan Uggla might be his pet project.

Uggla has had two rough seasons at the plate for the Braves. After hitting .263 in five years with the Marlins, Uggla has hit just .227 for Atlanta. But if you listen to Walker, you’ll come away believing Uggla will get back on track, too.

“As a hitting coach, you always look for first cause of the problem, so you can stop it at that point,” Walker explained. “We felt that Danny has gotten into a bad habit of getting started with his toe-tap extremely late. Scott Fletcher (Walker’s assistant hitting coach) showed him with a video that Chipper Jones got his toe-tap out of the way a lot earlier and gives them time to read the ball and still put a good swing on it.”

That certainly sounds simple enough. So, has that advice worked this spring?

“The hard contact is back, and that’s what we’re looking for,” Walker said.

No one will be prouder if Uggla bounces back than Walker, who believes in his players and wants fans to believe in them, too. That’s something he must have gotten from the coaches who put in the time to help him as a player, and that’s the confidence he wants to pass along now as a coach.

“It’s very rewarding to see some of these young guys turn into the people they’re capable of being,” he said. “Sometimes we have some impact off the field, too. My coaches did with me. When you’re a hitting coach, you get to know them so well. You basically become a family. I still feel like I play an important role. If I just play a small part in it and some of these young guys are sitting on their porch one day and remember that I actually cared about them, I’ll be happy.”

Walker is paying back his coaches, in a way. They helped him, and now he’s helping others. That’s not a bad concept.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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