PEORIA, Ariz. – Before Taijuan Walker got too far into his pro baseball career this summer, he dealt with something more important than a 95 mph fastball and dreams of the big leagues.
He took care of his mother, Nellie.
Walker bought her a new home and a new car with part of his $800,000 signing bonus after the Seattle Mariners selected him with the 43rd overall draft pick in June.
“We move in a couple of weeks,” he said. “I’m pretty excited.”
Having their own house is a huge step up for Taijuan and Mom, who raised him and three siblings in Yucaipa, Calif.
“We kind of never had a house,” he said. “Mom didn’t have the money to get us a house. We were living, kind of, with family.”
Walker, who turned 18 on Aug. 13, doesn’t elaborate on his upbringing, or much else for that matter. He’s the classic soft-spoken hard-thrower.
“Every day, I get to know him better and better,” said Peoria Mariners manager Andy Bottin, who not only helps rookie-level players adjust to pro ball but also a new life away from home. “Taijuan was kind of quiet, but he’s actually a little character. He’s one of those guys who’ll do something to you and then he’ll sit there and pretend he didn’t do it. The guys like him. Most of all, he’s a good kid. He’s going to have fun and he wants to play. That’s the big thing – be a kid, have fun, play the game.”
And, as Walker showed by taking care of Mom after he signed, Bottin said his priorities are in the right place.
“He’s got pretty good makeup and he’s got a passion for the game,” Bottin said, noting that Walker didn’t hesitate to sign soon after the draft rather than negotiate through the summer for more money. “He’s kind of a starry-eyed kid who really is excited about getting his career started. His focus is more on playing the game and learning about it, and then the money will take care of itself.
“His values are pretty grounded to the future. The sooner he can work toward his development and getting better, the chances of him getting to the big leagues will be a lot higher.”