Brian Walker spent two years at Big Bear High School searching for a home-field advantage. This involved the little matter of finding the home field, which was usually covered by a blanket of snow. At Big Bear, the boys of summer had to wait until the spring meltdown before they could throw out the first pitch.
"We didn't really have a field most of the time," Walker said, "because there was snow all over it. We practiced in the gym. I remember my freshman year . . . we played two home games. We had three or four last year. But it was always cold."
Not to mention a little lonely. Walker wanted some attention. He wanted exposure to quality pitching, college coaches and professional scouts. What he was getting was exposure to frostbite and hypothermia. Being a big fish in a small pond didn't satisfy him, particularly when that pond was usually frozen over.
Baseball people had some words of warning for him: "Come down off that mountain or risk getting lost up there."
So it was that Walker and his family--on the advice of some scouts who saw him play at a summer baseball camp--moved to Mission Viejo in search of warmer air and greener baseball pastures. He landed at Capistrano Valley High School last fall. Cougar Coach Bob Zamora took one look at Walker's smooth swing and knew he had found the left-handed hitter he had longed for. Special delivery from the San Bernardino Mountains.
"Somewhere, a scout saw him and told his parents, 'Your kid's a good player, but if you want him to be seen, you have to move down in the valley,' " Zamora said. "Mr. Walker has a brother who lives in our attendance area. They came down here to scout out schools in the area, and decided on Capo Valley.
"That's where Brian Walker and I came together. And boy, has it been sweet."
It didn't take Walker long to get acclimated to flatlands baseball. He moved immediately into the Cougars' starting lineup and eventually settled into the fourth spot in the batting order. And, despite a painful midseason flare-up of his appendix, he emerged as one of the biggest reasons the Cougars are where they are today--in Dodger Stadium.
Walker, a junior, takes an eight-game hitting streak into today's Southern Section 2-A championship game against La Serna at 1 p.m. He is batting .571 (8 for 14) in the playoffs. During the regular season, Walker hit .457 (32 for 70) with four home runs and eight doubles. He finished only a few percentage points behind team-leader Tommy Adams. As a pitcher, Walker is 4-0. He got victory No. 4 in Tuesday's 8-6 win over Arroyo in the 2-A semifinals.
Adjusting to the more advanced baseball in Orange County came easily for Walker. "You know what?" Zamora said. "He's a natural."
Brian Walker as Roy Hobbs? Well, Walker does have that smooth, left-handed stroke that Robert Redford's heroic character displayed in the film "The Natural." And, in another similarity to the fictional character: around Easter, Walker had an internal ailment that interrupted his season and sent him to a hospital bed.
"It happened early Saturday morning," Walker said. "I thought it was just a stomach ache . . . no problem. But it got worse and worse. By Sunday at about two in the morning, I couldn't take it anymore. I had to go to the hospital."
His appendix was removed, and his doctors informed him that it would be at least a month before he could play baseball again. But apparently Walker wasn't listening.
"Within two weeks, he was pitching in practice," Zamora said. "He was back in the lineup in three weeks."
His statistics since then have been quite healthy.