BRADENTON, Fla. - Growing up in Pittsburgh as a lifelong Pirate fan, Neil Walker was all too familiar with the Buccos' 20 consecutive losing seasons.
Now the Pirates' second baseman, Walker, known to many as the Pittsburgh Kid, is happy the streak is behind the organization and hopes the club is headed for bigger and better things.
A victory over the Reds in the National League wild card game and a tough loss to the Cardinals in the NL division playoffs in 2013 has Pittsburghers excited about 2014
Walker is excited as well.
"We're looking to continue taking that next step forward and to push ourselves to where we want to go on a consistent level," Walker was saying prior to the Pirates' spring training Grapefruit League opener with the Yankees on Wednesday at McKechnie Field.
Walker secured a new contract from the Bucs during the offseason, and he's happy to have that behind him as well.
"I'm trying to stay away from any talks about the contract," he said. "[Pittsburgh)] is the organization I started with and, as it stands today, I'm very happy to be a Pittsburgh Pirate.
"It's good to have that behind me so I can focus on 2014."
Drafted as a catcher out of Pine Richland High School in suburban Pittsburgh, the former No. 1 pick changed positions several times before finding a home - surprisingly - at second base.
"There were three positions I never thought I'd play - second base, shortstop and centerfield," Walker said. "But, I've had a lot of great help along the way and feel very fortunate to be in the spot I'm in. I'm just trying to do the best I can to help this team get to where we want to go."
Walker played parts of two seasons with the Altoona Curve, spending most of his time at third base, but he knew not to get comfortable at third.
"I knew once Pedro [Alvarez] was drafted I was going to have to get another position;" Walker said. "I somewhat fell into the second base spot and was a little wary of it, especially in my first year in the big leagues.
"But, I've had a ton of help at second and hope that's the last position I play, but you never know," he added, laughing.
Now one of the Pirates' most-respected veterans, Walker formed a solid double play combination with Clint Barmes the last couple of years. Jordy Mercer is expected to be the club's every day shortstop now, but Walker says Mercer should handle it well.
"[Mercer] doesn't need a ton of help," Walker said. "The last two years, he's had a lot of time on field in Triple-A and here. Now, it's his opportunity to play. He's extremely talented and will be a good major league player.
"If I share anything with him, it would be just to relax, go out and play and not worry about making mistakes."