Surprisingly, he doesn't mean himself, or first place
Walker recently told The Tablet, “You just got to remember you’re playing for the No. 1 … you’re playing for God. All you can do is prepare yourself and do the things you’re supposed to do.
“God willing, at the end of the day, you play your best whether you win, you lose, you go 0-for-4, you go 4-for-4, whatever the case may be. You just try to play the game the way that you feel that you should to glorify God.”
Walker’s faith has traveled with him wherever he has played baseball, even prompting him to revive a weekly Mass for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He personally contacted local priests and developed a rotation so that Mass was offered at the stadium on a regular basis.
“It (the Mass) just kind of took off. It probably went from three or four people the first couple of weeks of doing it to 15 or 20 on a weekly basis in the summertime. It was really fun to see. It’s always good to celebrate the Word with faith-based people.”
For Walker, resurrecting the weekly Mass gave him and other baseball players the weapons they needed to combat the negative aspects of professional sports. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “There’s a lot of temptation. There are a lot of things at your disposal. If you don’t have your mind right, your thoughts right — if, spiritually, you’re not right — it’s easy to lose your way.”
Much of Walker’s strong faith was inherited from his father, former MLB pitcher Tom Walker. During his six-year career Tom Walker did what he could to help others, even assisting with a delivery of relief supplies to earthquake-torn Nicaragua organized by baseball legend Roberto Clemente. That flight changed his life, as he was told not to board the plane by Clemente. Shortly after takeoff the plane went up in smoke, killing all those on board. Looking back, Walker was grateful for that providential night, saying, “I think of a man that saved my life. I can’t help but think about that now. I’ve had four wonderful children, and it turns out that one of them is the second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates.”
That event taught Neil Walker the power of God’s providence. In an interview with the National Catholic Register he said, “We tend to take life for granted, but it really is a gift from God. In Jeremiah 1:5, the Lord says, ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.’ That was true of Jeremiah, but also of everyone else. None of us gives life to ourselves, so we have to be thankful for all the happenings of divine Providence that make our lives possible.”
This season Walker is on track to set more records in what could be another run to the World Series. But he remains grounded in his faith in the midst of his success. As he explained to The Tablet, “Through your faith and through your trust in God, you just go out and you play the game and you try to glorify Him. That’s really all you can do.”
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