In the middle of May, Pine-Richland alum Neil Walker, a former Pittsburgh Pirate and current Miami Marlin was named the 2019 American Legion Graduate of the Year, an award given to a former Legion baseball player and current major leaguer for his character, leadership, playing abilities and community service.
As a part of the award, players have the opportunity to choose when he receives the award. In the past, players have used the sport’s biggest stages to accept the award. When Alex Gordon was named as the Graduate of the Year in 2015, he received the award at the World Series.
While the stage might be a little smaller, it will have a special feeling for Walker as he will receive his award Sept. 3, when the Marlins are in town to take on the Pirates.
“I think it will feel great,” Walker said about how he’ll feel when receiving the award in front of a hometown crowd. “Pittsburgh is the town where I grew up learning sports, particularly the game of baseball. The Pirates were the organization that gave me my first opportunity, so it only feels natural to have it be there.”
When Walker heard the news he was being named the Graduate of the Year, he didn’t want to make any plans because of the uncertainty surrounding the MLB trade deadline.
The list of players who have received the award include Ted Williams, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, Justin Verlander, Tony Gwynn, Greg Maddux, Carlton Fisk and Albert Pujols. That list certainly caught Walker’s attention.
“I’ve seen the list before, and it’s humbling,” Walker said. “American Legion baseball is such a good program from teaching kids the right way to play and learning valuable lessons through the veteran’s program. I was really excited to know that I was a part of the list.”