Walker learning from 'shadow' Maz
BRADENTON, Fla. — Bill Mazeroski knows great defense when he sees it. He should — he helped invent it.
Mazeroski still gets a lot of attention for hitting that ninth-inning home run in October 1960. But what got him into the Hall of Fame were the dazzling defensive skills — Maz won eight Gold Gloves — that made him one of the best second basemen of all time.
Last year, Neil Walker, a former catcher and third baseman, played only 21 games at second base at Triple-A before becoming the Pirates' everyday starter at that position. Sometimes, he clearly was learning on the job. Other times, Walker looked like a natural.
When asked to assess the rookie's performance, the old master did not hesitate.
"It was remarkable, what he did at second," Mazeroski said. "Neil did a great job. He's a darn good athlete, and it was fun to watch him."
This is Walker's first spring training as a full-time second baseman. Every morning during infield drills, Mazeroski, who's in camp as a special instructor, shadowed Walker on the field.
Walker would scoop up a ground ball, flip it to the shortstop, then talk it over with Maz.
Walker would snag a liner, fake a throw to first, then talk it over with Maz.
Walker would hustle to the bag, take a toss and make the pivot, then talk it over with Maz.
"It's pretty unbelievable that I'm getting the opportunity to work with Maz," Walker said. "He'll probably be sick of me by the time spring training's done."
Footwork has been the focus of their workouts. An experienced third baseman, Walker's already proven he's nimble. But second base requires a different kind of agility — more lateral moves and, most importantly, the ability to pivot at the bag under pressure.
"Neil did real well for never having done it before," said Mazeroski, who, in his prime, moved like Baryshnikov when turning a double play.
"He's going to be much better at it, I think, this year, just from the way he's taken to it in infield practice," Mazeroski said. "He's quickened it up a little bit. His arm's not as long. His feet are shorter. He's moving toward the ball, rather than moving toward first base. He's come a long way, so he's going to be all right."
It's not all just about movement. A slow-developing double play ball requires courage as much as quick feet.
"If you're not prepared to get out of the runner's way, you can pay for it big time," Walker said. "I learned that last year on the fly."
Maz's lessons for Walker are simple: Be quick. Be fluid. On double plays, get to the bag, get the ball and get rid of it.
"My ways aren't antiquated," Mazeroski said. "There's still fundamentals about catching the ball, getting rid of it quick and throwing it. It's still the same, and you've still got to do it.
"What we did in our day, they're still doing today."
Neil Walker's career defensive stats:
2B: 105 games, 104 starts, 894.2 innings, 463 chances, 222 putouts, 234 assists, 7 errors, 62 double plays, .985 fielding percentage
3B: 15 games, 13 starts, 109.2 innings, 37 chances, 10 putouts, 25 assists, 2 errors, 1 double play, .946 fielding percentage
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates notebook: McCutchen returns to starting lineup; Alvarez out
- Pirates down Cardinals, inch closer in wild-card chase
- Pirates notebook: Breakout of catching prospect Diaz a pleasant surprise
- Pirates notebook: Barmes back, gets start at SS