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All-Star pitcher aims for perfection
ARLINGTON — Few can throw it, but Stilly Valley Seniors All-Star pitcher Ryan Walker has nearly mastered it.
It’s a slider, screwball and curveball all packed into one pitch — otherwise known as the “slurve.”
“It’s a tough pitch to throw, most pitchers can’t throw it,” Ryan’s dad Mark Walker said. “He has a natural slurve and he’s had it since he was young. When you throw the ball hard it will start inside and then move out. He’s perfected that pitch. The batter will back out of the box and the ball will end up going right over the plate.”
During one game, Ryan Walker’s wacky pitch forced a batter to duck his head over the strike zone; the ball changed directions and darted over the plate, hitting the batter’s head. Because the batter stepped inside the strike zone the umpire called it a strike — the third one no-less.
“That was one of my more memorable memories,” Ryan Walker said. “Batters can only see the ball flying toward them. They really don’t know where it’s going to land.”
There’s no doubting Ryan Walker’s talent on the mound. But now he has to shine brighter than ever in what might be his last All-Star tournament of his Little League career. Stilly Valley began the District 1 All-Star tournament on Sunday, July 3, at Lake Stevens Community Park. The championship game begins at 8 p.m., Wednesday, July 13, in Lake Stevens. The winner moves on to the state tournament.
Ryan Walker has made the All-Star team five consecutive seasons, but the teams he’s been on have yet to make it past state. If Stilly Valley wins both district and state it advances to regionals, July 17. The location has yet to be announced.
“We just seem to choke when we get to state,” Ryan Walker said. “We have the talent this year, we just need to stay focused and not worry about what’s going to happen. And we can’t choke most of all.”
The pitching pressure isn’t entirely on Ryan Walker’s shoulders. Of the 14 Stilly Valley players, 10 of them have pitching experience.
“I’d say seven of them are very solid,” said Mark Walker, who is also the Stilly Valley assistant coach. “That is a luxury most teams don’t have. Games can come down to the availability of pitchers. Some teams just run out. We won’t have that problem.”
When Ryan Walker isn’t pitching, he fits in nicely at shortstop — his second favorite position. However, with the arm of a cannon he’s touted as one of the best catchers in the district. Oddly, playing catcher might be his ticket to either a Division I or Division II college.
“A scout from USA Baseball came up to me after one of Ryan’s games where he was playing catcher,” Mark Walker said. “And he asked me about Ryan’s plans for the future. He told me that teams are looking for catchers. He seemed very interested in Ryan as a catcher.”
USA Baseball has been the national governing body for baseball for a large portion of amateur leagues across the nation since 1978. It represents the sport for the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Baseball Federation.
“It’s not too early to start thinking about his future,” Mark Walker said. “We have to consider which direction he should go next year. We haven’t ruled out select ball.”
Ryan Walker begins his sophomore year at Arlington High School in the fall and plans to focus on his high school baseball career. Last season, he was called up a few times to the Arlington High School’s varsity squad, a rare move according to Mark Walker.
“They just don’t call up freshmen,” Mark Walker said. “But Ryan played very well. He scored a few times and pitched really well.”
For now, however, Walker has one thing on his mind, help lead Stilly Valley through the district and state tournaments.
“I am confident we can move on,” he said. “Our team has been together for some time and we have great chemistry. I think we can easily take state this year.”