Twenty-six years ago, Larry Walker found himself on the cover of the first-ever Canadian edition of Sports Illustrated.
“It’s a great honour,” the 26-year-old Walker told CBC’s Midday, when asked how he felt about the magazine’s attention ahead of the 1993 MLB season. “I’m thrilled about it and I’m sure you know family and even myself are going to buy quite a few issues.”
The Sports Illustrated profile of Walker mentioned his lifelong love of hockey, a game he was doing his best to keep up with during baseball’s spring training season.
“It’s tough to do down here in Palm Beach, a lot of people here don’t know what icing is,” said Walker, who spoke to Midday from Florida, where the Expos were taking part in spring training.
“So, I try and do the best I can with [the newspaper] USA Today to catch up on what Vancouver does, what Boston does and you know, keep track of things. “
Still a rising star
At that time, the B.C.-born ballplayer was coming off an all-star season with the Montreal Expos in which he had the highest batting average among the members of the starting lineup on his team. He also hit the most home runs and drove in the most runs.
And he was still getting better — which probably helped convince the Expos to offer him the $3-million contract he had signed during the off-season.
It hadn’t always been so easy for Walker, who had grown up in Maple Ridge, B.C., dreaming of being a pro hockey player.
When that dream didn’t pan out, he ended up on a path to the pros in baseball.
But there was a lot to learn along the way, including how to hit more difficult pitches than what he’d seen as a kid in Canada.
“Back home, all I saw was fastballs and what were supposed to be curveballs that really didn’t do anything but spin,” said Walker.
“So, I had to learn a lot of new pitches. The slider, the forkball, the splitter … the pitchers were just so much more advanced because they had high-school ball and college ball.”
A future MVP
Clearly, he’d figured that out by the time he talked to Midday, even though he’d then hit only 58 of the 383 home runs he’d launch out of Major League ballparks during his 17-year career.
Walker would stay with the Expos through the 1994 season — the one that unfortunately ended prematurely, wiping out Montreal’s playoff hopes.
After that, Walker spent nearly a decade playing for the Colorado Rockies. And he was named the National League MVP while playing for that team in 1997.
In 2004, he was traded to St. Louis, where he stayed playing with the Cardinals through the following season before retiring from baseball.