“It’s never bad to make an All-Star team,” Colin Walsh told me yesterday.
No. It certainly is not.
The humility is evident – he’s not even entirely comfortable talking about it. But, there’s no denying the grin as he spoke of how special the season has been, including some hard-earned honors. Like being named a Midwest League All-Star, both at the midseason break, and again at the end of the year, for example.
The 22-year-old is in his second full season with the Quad Cities River Bandits, after spending about a month with the club in his first year as a professional. Perhaps it’s the comfort level of knowing his surroundings; perhaps it’s the hours he’s put in on and off the field; and perhaps it’s the opportunity to play every day under first-year Bandits manager Luis Aguayo that has propelled him to an MVP-caliber season. Whatever the case, something clicked. Something big.
In 92 games, Walsh is hitting .316 with 18 doubles, 5 triples, and 16 home runs. Even after missing nearly six weeks with an injury, he still leads the team in on-base percentage (.419) and slugging (.543). Last season, (in his first full year with the club) he hit just .239.
Now, when you’ve played the game since age three, it may be hard to pick out the one thing that made such a difference. Then again, maybe you can pin it down to an exact moment.
“A lot of people have asked me, ‘What happened? What changed?’ because, obviously, I’m a much different player in terms of statistics hitting-wise this year opposed to last year,” Walsh explained, then continued. “It was actually in Spring Training, one of the last few days. I think I was mad, I was 0-for-2 or something, and I went up there and was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to swing as hard as I can.’ So, I went into that at bat, hit a line drive, next day was 2-for-3 with a double, and this is just kind of where it’s taken me.”
Simple as that.
That’s not the only moment that changed the course of Walsh’s baseball career, though. In fact, the career in-and-of itself could have just as easily never happened. It sure wasn’t on Colin’s radar until his freshman year at Stanford. At least, not until he saw what was possible.
“I had a bunch of teammates – I think eight or nine that year – drafted,” he said. “Five or six went in the first three rounds, and they were all juniors, I was a freshman. That was when I kind of realized, maybe I have a chance to play professionally. I’ve seen all my friends do it, and maybe in two years that could be me.”
In two years, that was him – another experience he’ll not likely forget.
“It was really exciting,” Walsh recalled, again unable to contain the grin. “The night before, I didn’t really sleep that much. I remember I was up at, like six a.m. and the draft was supposed to start in a couple hours. I wasn’t able to go back to sleep, so I just watched a movie on my computer. I tried to just keep my mind off of things the whole day … it’s kind of hard to not think about it. I went out to lunch with a friend of mine, and that’s when I got called by the Cardinals … once they told me when they were going to draft me, I went back and started watching the draft, saw my name pop up. It was pretty exciting.”
So began the process of learning the professional game, one detail at a time. While the current season has been superior for Walsh individually, last season afforded him the opportunity to play for a championship – and to do so in style.
The 2011 River Bandits took the playoffs by storm, winning the first Midwest League title since 1990.
“That team was together mostly the whole year, so we had a really good chemistry,” Walsh said.
We were playing really well going into the playoffs, so I think we all kind of decided that, you know, we might as well! We’re already here, played a full season. So, to go to a championship and win it in the fashion we did – 7-0 throughout the playoffs – was really exciting, number one, but it was also kind of a culmination of what we expected going in, because we knew we had a good team.”
“Luis is one of my favorite managers of all time,” Walsh said. “He’s just an awesome guy, a real players’ manager. He knows what it’s like, having played nine years in the Big Leagues. So, he gets it, he knows that there’s a grind.”
The respect between the two is mutual. Aguayo is thrilled with the progress Walsh has made, and called him a sure MVP candidate, if it wasn’t for the six-week absence. Still, the league honors – the All-Star nods, and Player of the Month nominations – were, according to Aguayo, well deserved.
“[He] really stayed on his program, really stayed on his routine,” Aguayo said. “He could be [up for] a higher award if he didn’t get hurt.”
“Obviously, you don’t play for All-Star appearances or accolades like that,” Walsh said. “But they do end up being nice … it’s just nice to know that other people are noticing, too.”
And the honors just keep coming. It was announced this week that Walsh will be joining Cardinal prospects Kolten Wong, Seth Blair, Sam Freeman, Kevin Siegrist, Boone Whiting, Cody Stanley, and Mike O’Neill in the Arizona Fall League this off season – another exciting step in the process that is a direct result of hard work.
“The fact that the Cardinals invited me is a big honor, and it’s something I really appreciate,” Walsh said. “I want to go there and play as well as I can because it is such a challenging league with the type of pitchers and hitters [there] – high profile, high prospect type guys. If I can go there and hold my own, and show off a good skill set, that bodes well for me in the future, in terms of moving up the Cardinals chain.”
Using the off season to move closer to the Majors? That’s never a bad thing, either.
Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.