Giants pitcher Ryan Walker, an Arlington High School graduate, throws during a game against the Cubs on Sunday in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Giants pitcher Ryan Walker, an Arlington High School graduate, throws during a game against the Cubs on Sunday in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Reaching majors ‘dream come true’ for Arlington grad Walker

The 27-year-old’s path to the majors was not easy, or expected, but his dogged persistence prevailed when he was called up by the Giants.

Ryan Walker is a hope-for-the-best, prepare-for-the-worst type of guy. So despite the fact he was putting up ridiculous numbers pitching at Triple-A, he wasn’t counting on getting the call.

“I was asking a guy who’d been to the show, Cole Waites, what it was like,” Walker recalled about a conversation he had in May while with the Sacramento River Cats. “He said I’d find out soon enough. My response was, ‘Probably not, I’ll be here for a while.’ Then literally the same day I got called up.”

It’s been a long journey for Walker, but his childhood dream is now a reality.

Walker made his major-league debut with the San Francisco Giants when he took the mound in relief against the Miami Marlins on May 21 at Oracle Park. The Arlington High School product is believed to be the first Arlington grad to ever reach the majors. And he accomplished the feat despite being on the older side for a debutant at 27. Despite being selected in a round of the Major League Baseball draft that no longer exists. Despite grinding six long years in the minors and having to survive both the coronavirus pandemic and minor-league contraction.

“It feels good, man,” Walker said. “It’s still kind of surreal, I don’t really want to lose that feeling. It’s definitely a dream come true, sometimes words can’t explain, but it’s more than I imagined.”

Now, with a dozen successful innings under his belt at baseball’s highest level, Walker’s story demonstrates the value of persistence.

Giants pitcher Ryan Walker stands in the dugout before a game against the Marlins on May 19 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Giants pitcher Ryan Walker stands in the dugout before a game against the Marlins on May 19 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

Not destined for greatness

At every step along Walker’s journey, the narrative has been the same: good, but maybe short of special.

At Arlington Walker was the Eagles’ best player for three years, but he wasn’t considered one of the top players in the county. His senior year in 2014 he didn’t make either The Herald’s All-Area first or second team.

Then in college at Washington State he was the type of pitcher who received plenty of work — he finished his career second in school history with 87 appearances — but who didn’t wow with his numbers, as he had an ERA over 5.00 his final two seasons.

The Giants saw enough to select him in the 2018 draft, but not until the 31st round and before 915 players had been taken ahead of him. Each year in the minors Walker put up solid enough numbers in relief for San Francisco to retain him and move him up one more level in the system, but not impressive enough to land him on any prospects lists.

Yet Walker persisted.

“It was just for the love of the game, honestly,” Walker explained about what kept him going. “There were times when I was like, ‘Dang, do I really want to continue?’ I felt like I was getting older and playing with younger guys, and sometimes I felt out of place. But every time I thought about that, it didn’t feel good, it made me feel sad. It never felt right to do that, so I continued to press on and figured out ways to get better every year.”

And that’s the way it’s always been with Walker.

“Ryan was really good in high school, but it wouldn’t have been fair to look at him and go, ‘Oh, he’s going to be a major leaguer,’” said Arlington coach Scott Striegel, who had Walker on varsity for three years. “He wasn’t the best kid in the area. So you have to give Ryan kudos. He wasn’t a bonus baby who was moved right through the minor leagues because the team had a lot of money invested in him. He put in the work and improved, and he stuck with it and made his dream come true.”

Giants pitcher Ryan Walker throws during a game against the Marlins on May 21 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Giants pitcher Ryan Walker throws during a game against the Marlins on May 21 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Coming at you crossfire

For his entire life, Walker has had a funky pitching motion. Instead of coming straight over the top and stepping directly toward the plate, the right-handed Walker had his foot land slightly toward third base and threw from a three-quarters arm angle, giving him a crossfire motion.

That unusual motion has become Walker’s secret weapon.

“It kind of developed over the years,” Walker said. “It all happened sort of naturally. For some reason my landing leg just kept getting farther and farther out. Obviously that’s the biggest part of why I’m here today.”

The effect of stepping toward third means Walker is able to hide the ball from the batter a fraction longer, and the three-quarters delivery means the ball is being delivered from an unusual angle. The combination means batters, especially right-handers, have a harder time picking up the ball when it’s released from Walker’s hand.

That made facing Walker a challenge to face when he was throwing his sinking two-seam fastball 90-93 mph. When he increased the velocity to 94-97 to pair with his sharp-breaking slider, Walker became a handful.

@dailydoseofbaseball Ryan Walker is NASTY #mlb #baseball #dailydoseofbaseball #theceoofsleep #foryou #xyzbca #fypシ #majorleaguebaseball #twins #giants #sanfran ♬ original sound – Jack

“I had people say, ‘If you step straight down the mound you’ll throw much harder,’” Walker said. “That’s not the case, this is the reason I throw as hard as I do, it’s how my body is designed. Then in 2021 I had a trainer and a physical therapist design lifts and exercises for me to be efficient with that movement, whether it was keeping the flexibility in my hips or the strength in my landing leg.”

Walker was having the best season of his career at Triple-A, with a 0.89 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 20.1 innings, and it forced San Francisco’s hand. The Giants made room for Walker on their 40-man roster and brought him to the majors.

Giants pitcher Ryan Walker (left) celebrates with catcher Patrick Bailey after a win over the Marlins on May 21 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Giants pitcher Ryan Walker (left) celebrates with catcher Patrick Bailey after a win over the Marlins on May 21 in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

A debut to remember

In the moment, Walker was unaware he was damaging a drive toward .400.

Miami’s Luis Arraez is seeking to become the first batter to hit .400 since Ted Williams in 1941, and with a .391 average through Monday he was 53 points better than the next best in the majors.

Yet when Walker retired Arraez on a line drive two short with two on and two out in the top of the sixth inning of his May 21 debut, he was unaware of the magnitude of his accomplishment.

“As I tell everybody, I’m not a huge sports guy,” Walker said. “I faced Arraez in my debut, he’s one of the best hitters in the league, and I didn’t even know who he was, I’d never heard of him. I think that kind of helped me in a way, but in the future I probably should know who I’m facing.”

It’s been a fairy-tale start to Walker’s major-league career. He earned the win in his first ever appearance, which came with about 40 family members and friends in the stands. Through Monday he’d made nine appearances, allowing just two earned runs in 12.1 innings for a 1.46 ERA, walking two and striking out 13. He picked up his second win last Tuesday at Colorado with a perfect inning in which he struck out two of the three batters he faced.

These are the fruits of Walker’s persistence.

“Ryan was focused on this goal from a young age, and he held onto that dream through adversity and hard work, still maintaining a good attitude and respect for all those he played the game with,” said Walker’s father Mark, who was among those on hand for his debut. “For me, when he reached the majors there was extreme excitement, but also a feeling of relief that a sometimes seemingly unattainable goal was reached.”

While a goal has been reached, Walker is aware that there’s more work to do.

“I don’t want to take anything for granted because I’m new and the hitters don’t know me, so that’s helping me out a bit,” Walker said. “As time goes on, hitters are going to see me and know what I’ve got, so I really have to stay on top of that and pitch not only to my strengths, but to the hitters’ weaknesses.”

And Walker’s track record suggests he will persist.

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