His car's engine still stoked from the seven-hour drive from Lynchburg, Va., Morgan Walker approached the entrance to Lake Olmstead Stadium, where he was greeted by a couple of enthused teammates and fans whose struggling ballclub finds itself much in need of a boost.
He stopped, dropped his Pittsburgh Pirates travel bag and set down his carton of Louisville Sluggers and took a moment to soak in the smothering Georgia heat and schmooz with the welcome wagon.
"Who's pitching tonight?" Walker asked a friend. "For Savannah?"
"Peter Cervantes, I believe," the friend answered.
"OK, good," said the burly 6-foot-4 first baseman, confidently. "I've faced him before."
So, Walker moseyed up to the batter's box for his first cuts on Thursday - less than 24 hours after hearing the disappointing revelation that he had been demoted from the advanced-Class A Carolina League and was coming back to Augusta and the low-Class A South Atlantic League - and looked to make an immediate statement.
Seems Walker doesn't plan on making his third stint with the GreenJackets a long one, and he most certainly is figuring on it being his last.
The 22-year-old Texan launched a threerun homer to left field off Cervantes in the bottom of the first inning of Thursday's scheduled contest.
Walker's blast truly provided an immediate lift for the Jackets, who earlier were trounced by the Gnats in the completion of Wednesday night's game suspended in the fifth inning by rain, 13-6.
Other than marrying his college sweetheart in the offseason, it's been a somewhat perplexing year for the Pirates' 23rd-round pick last June out of Lamar University.
Coming off his '96 pro debut with the Jackets, when he batted .300 with eight home runs and 50 RBI, Walker spent his first spring training in March with the Lynchburg club. He thought for sure he would be headed north with the HillCats when camp broke, even though he struggled to get his bat going.
But in the final days of camp, with a stockpile of first baseman ahead of him in the organization, Walker found himself back with the Jackets.
After batting .242 with six homers and 26 RBI with the Jackets in 120 at-bats, he finally got the call to Lynchburg on May 10, where he batted .270 with three homers and eight RBI in 89 at-bats.
Though Walker enjoys being one of the fan favorites at The Lake, he turns 23 on August 7, and knows that the window of opportunity in baseball can close rather abruptly.
But, perhaps, Thursday's coming-full circle matchup is some kind of sign. Ironically, Walker's final game with the Jackets before his promotion to Lynchburg was played in Savannah, with Cervantes on the mound for the Sand Gnats.
"I'm going to make the most of the situation," Walker said. "My wife an I were pretty distraught when we heard I was being sent down, but at least I'll get the chance to play everyday here, and hopefully move back up pretty quickly."
NOTES: Because the completion of Wednesday's suspended game was played on Thursday, the scheduled game was slated to go only seven innings, per National Association rules. ... The Jackets clubhouse has been buzzing with a slew of moves the last two days. In addition to the addition of Walker, outfielder Al Davis, who batted .240 with six homers and 30 RBI with 27 steals for the Jackets, was promoted to Lynchburg. Catcher John Turlais was demoted from Lynchburg and also joined the Jackets on Thursday, taking the spot of pitcher Ricardo Finol, who was placed on the disabled. First baseman Garrett Long went on the DL on Wednesday and outfielder Randy Edwards, promoted from Bradenton of the rookie Gulf Coast League, was activated. ... Savannah's Luke Prokopec, who spent the last two seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization as an outfielder, has been converted to pitcher and made his pro debut in the completion of Wednesday's suspended game. The Australian went two innings, allowing two runs on one hit with two walks and three strikeouts. ... Sand Gnats shortstop Kip Harkrider was a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic baseball team.
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