It’s 3,705 km from Coquitlam, B.C., to Cooperstown, N.Y.
It’s taken Larry Walker, a Maple Ridge native who played a season as a pitcher and infielder at Mundy Park for the Coquitlam Reds, 10 years to make the journey that Tuesday finally landed him in the baseball Hall of Fame in the upstate New York town.
Walker, who played 17 years in Major League Baseball with the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals, is only the second Canadian to be elected to the Hall. The other is former pitcher Ferguson Jenkins.
During his career, Walker was named the most valuable player in the National League once, and to the all-star team five times. He won three batting titles, three Silver Slugger awards and seven Golden Gloves while hitting 383 home runs, driving in 1,311 runs and amassing a career batting average of .313.
It's a career one of Walker's former teammates in Coquitlam never could have imagined for his sometimes battery mate during warmups who drove to the park in an old turquoise Toyota or Datsun with fake wood panelling.
Mike Howell, who's now a reporter at the Vancouver Courier, a sister paper of The Tri-City News, said he remembered Walker had a "top notch" arm that he also used to full effect when he played shortstop.
Walker also stole a lot of bases and could hit the ball, Howell recalled, "but back then no one ever thought he was going to be a big leaguer."
Except maybe a scout, who, Howell said, told one of the Reds' coaches during a tournament in Washington state that Walker had a swing like Darryl Strawberry, who hit 335 homeruns in his 17-year Major League career that ended in 1999.
Still, Howell said, getting scouted and drafted by the Major Leagues seemed an unlikely possibility for a bunch of "suburban Canadian teenagers."
According to a biography of Walker by author Tony DeMarco, after Walker played a season for the Reds, he attended a tryout camp for the team that would represent Canada at the 1984 World Youth Baseball Championships in Kindersley, Sask. He caught the eye of Expos’ scouting director Jim Fanning and was offered a pro contract a few months later.
Since Walker’s retirement in 2005, recognition as one of the game’s all-time greats by being elected to the Hall of Fame has eluded him. In fact, this was his last crack at his 10 years of eligibility for consideration and he finally got over the 75% of required votes by six ballots.
In a Tweet Walker posted Monday, he expressed doubt he’d have enough support to get into the Hall.
But Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, Greg Hamilton, said in a statement on the organization’s website Walker’s induction will be a boost for young ballplayers across the country. He called Walker “a proud Canadian who still impacts the game north of the border."
New York Yankee great Derek Jeter was the only other player to receive enough votes for induction this year. It’s his first year of eligibility since he retired in 2014.
Walker and Jeter will officially enter the Hall of Fame in a ceremony to be held July 26.