Tim Benz: Once Neil Walker's baseball career is over, media could be next viable step
Neil Walker made his return to the North Shore on Saturday.
OK, it was at Heinz Field. Not PNC Park.
OK, it wasn't on the field.
And, OK, it might have just been for a day.
But “The Pittsburgh Kid” came back to “tahn” for a moment and has his eyes set on a return long term — although it doesn't appear to be as a Pirates player again next year, despite a recent rumor that a reunion might occur.
Rather, Walker has his eyes on broadcasting in his post-MLB playing life. And he took a chance at dabbling in the craft this weekend.
Walker provided the football color commentary on AT&T SportsNet for the WPIAL championship game between Central Catholic and his alma mater, Pine-Richland.
For folks who might not remember Walker's football career, he was a standout receiver and safety with the Rams. He helped them win a WPIAL title in his senior season of 2003.
Now his football background could help him figure out if a baseball broadcasting career might be in his future.
“This is definitely something I'd be interested in when my career is done,” Walker said before his broadcast. “It's exciting and something I would consider.”
In a phone conversation Thursday, Walker assured me he isn't thinking about retirement anytime soon. Even though he is a free agent, the infielder is only 32 years old. And he still thinks he has some baseball left to play.
But Walker did say, “I know my career isn't going to last forever” and stated he just wanted to get a feel for whether the broadcasting industry is something he'd want to do once he hangs up his spikes.
Not that he really needs to do anything.
He's already made $48 million in his playing career since being drafted by the Pirates in 2004.
And another contract likely is coming, whether it's in Pittsburgh or not.
For Walker, it'd be a matter of “want to.”
For instance, would he want a nightly studio analyst's job like the one Kent Tekulve just left? Or perhaps an in-game color commentator role for a full baseball season?
“What would I do? What would I be willing to do? Would I want to travel?” Walker said. “Some of the guys (on the Pirate broadcasts) have split schedules. Steve Blass does home games. ‘Rock' (John Wehner) does road games. I'd have to hone that in and figure that out. And I'm just not there yet.”
How would Walker be at the job? Well, since he was 18-years-old, Walker's affable nature and comfort in front of a camera have been obvious. Few athletes ever to come through Pittsburgh have conveyed a persona as friendly as Walker's.
Those qualities no doubt would connect with his hometown audience, where Walker's roots and local cachet are obvious plusses.
Being willing to criticize and honestly analyze former teammates and opponents would be an entirely different matter, though. It's one that a lot of “good guys with the media” as players struggled to pull off when they entered the media itself upon retirement.
That might be the case for Walker, too, given his inherently kind personality.
But as far as the willingness to put in the work to study the game and the work ethic needed to prep for each broadcast, that's right up Walker's alley. He's always been a worker, a grinder. Someone that has refined technique to the point that he was a three-sport standout at Pine-Richland, all the way up to being a Silver Slugger Award-winning second baseman in the major leagues.
In fact, during our conversation, Walker was on his way back from a meeting with Rams coach Eric Kasperowicz. He already had spoken with Central Catholic's Terry Totten. He recently finished tape review of Pine-Richland's semifinal game. And he had gone through the pregame pre-broadcast conference call.
So what was Walker's critique of his own performance after it was done?
“Everything moved pretty quickly in the beginning but settled in nicely,” Walker said via text Sunday. “Rob King and Chris Schneider (Walker's partners in the booth) are so good they made it easy. I was very happy with it and happy AT&T was willing to give me the opportunity.”
In a few years, maybe he'll get that opportunity full time.
Oh, and as for those rumors about a potential return to the Pirates?
“There isn't anything to talk about at this point,” Walker laughed off in an attempt to give a “no comment.”
I guess he's right. He's not quite ready to jump to this side of the media fence just yet.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.