Neil Walker's spot on the Phillies' opening day roster comes with a milestone.
"I needed six days to get to full pension, 10 years of service time," the veteran infielder said Sunday, one day after learning he'd successfully made the club. "That's something that's very prideful for somebody in this game of baseball to play for as long as you have. Not many guys can get to that eight-, nine-, 10-year mark."
Walker, who will turn 35 in September, was a longtime regular for the Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets. He moved into a utility role the last few seasons with the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins, and that's the role he'll fill with the Phillies. He's been a regular second baseman during his career and he can also play first base, third base and left field. Designated hitter is another potential role that Walker could fit into during this 60-game season, which opens Friday night.
"I've learned over the last several years how to play off the bench, how to play somewhat sparingly, and that's not an easy thing to do, going from an everyday player to a non-everyday player," Walker said. "It's definitely a transition and I feel like I've finally got a pretty good grasp of what's being asked of me and how to stay as sharp as possible whether I'm playing once a week or whether I find myself playing four or five times a week."
The Phillies signed Walker to a minor-league contract in January. The deal was worth $2 million if he made the big club. That's $740,000 on the 60-game prorate.
Had Walker not made the club, he would have looked for an opportunity with another club. If one did not present itself, he may have retired. He had no interest in going to Lehigh Valley to be part of the backup crew.
"I'm at the point in my career now where I feel like I don't have really much to prove at the lower levels," Walker said. "I'm not 25, 26 years old anymore. I'm working on 35. I'm willing to be a third catcher, I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help this team. This is a very, very talented group. I feel like my value really is in my versatility. My value is, at this point, being a really good insurance policy for this team."
The Phils still have some other decisions to make on their bench. The team has not made its plans in that area known, but it looks like there might be two openings with Josh Harrison, Ronald Torreyes, Phil Gosselin and Kyle Garlick all in the running. Decisions are expected soon.
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