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Shon Walker’s Hall of Fame game wasn’t just the long ball

April 17, 2018 FieldsColumn

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Shon Walker, 26 years after hitting a national record 29 home runs his senior season at Harrison County, is still involved in baseball coaching his son.

BY MIKE FIELDS

CYNTHIANA — Shon Walker still looks like he could step up to the plate and, with that sweet, smooth left-handed swing of his, send a baseball flying to the hinterlands.

Except . . . 

“I tore a ligament in my leg playing kickball at our company picnic,” he said with a laugh.

Walker confessed his injury — and his concession to age — on a recent spring evening at River Road Park where he was helping instruct his son Donovan’s Little League team in practice.

Walker, 43, played his last minor league baseball game 20 years ago, but he still feels drawn to the diamond.

“The fresh-cut grass, getting the chalk out, I love all of it,” he said.

Walker’s love for the game, his talent for playing it, and his remarkable accomplishments at Harrison County High School, will be recognized when he’s inducted into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame this weekend.

Walker is best known for hitting a national-record 29 home runs as a senior in 1992, but he wasn’t just a long-ball knocker.

“Shon was a true athlete,” Harrison County Coach Mac Whitaker said. “He had unbelievable foot speed. We showed it off by drag-bunting some. We needed him to hit home runs for us, but we also wanted the scouts see how fast he could get up the line.”

Walker had a robust .565 batting average his senior season, along with 82 runs (still a state record), 76 RBIs and 43 walks.

“Amazing,” Whitaker said.

Walker’s career numbers include a .437 average, 52 homers, 215 runs, 193 RBIs and 130 walks.

Shon Walker had a standout career at Harrison County.

Walker remembers getting off to a torrid start his senior year. “I hit something like 14 home runs in our first 15 games” before opponents started pitching around him.

Once teammates Brad Allison and Dion Newby started hitting, Walker got the chance to swing away again.

He hit his last homer in Harrison County’s loss to Covington Catholic in the sectional tournament.

His 29 dingers stood as a national record until an Alabama high schooler hit 30 in 2000.

Walker’s skill and athleticism had already earned him a scholarship to Kentucky, but by the end of his senior year he had won over the Major League scouts, too.

The Pittsburgh Pirates made him a first-round draft choice (and the 33rd overall pick) that June, so he decided to go pro instead of to college.

Walker enjoyed some success in the minors, most notably with the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets and Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats.

He helped both of those teams win championships. “That was pretty exciting,” he said.

He wound up playing seven seasons as an outfielder in the Pirates’ farm system. His best year was 1997 when he batted .303 with 14 homers, 70 RBIs and 61 runs for the Hillcats.

Looking back, Walker said coming out of high school he wasn’t prepared mentally or physically for the grueling schedule that awaited him in the minors.

“It was a real grind,” he said. “And hot. Very hot. I played in the South most of the time.”

By 1998, Walker could sense that his dream of making the majors wasn’t going to happen. He had a 3-year-old son (Dominic), and he didn’t want to miss out on his childhood.

“I just said, ‘I’m done, and I’ll go on back home.’

“It took me a while to come to grips that I wasn’t playing anymore. I wanted to make it to the big leagues so bad. In some ways you can’t help but feel like a failure, and wonder what everybody back home is going to think.

“But I had to let it go.”

Back home, Walker is still regarded as a hero, and he’ll be recognized as such with his induction into the Hall of Fame.

“This is a true honor,” Whitaker said. “Shon was a great person and a standout baseball player. To do what he did and be a first-round draft pick from a small town like ours, that just doesn’t happen very often.”

Walker still clearly recalls the moment he decided he wanted to play for the Thorobreds.

It was at his sister Jada’s high school graduation in 1984. Earlier that same day, Harrison County’s baseball team lost to East Carter in the state finals.

Walker, who was 10 at the time, remembers that in the middle of the graduation ceremony, “the auditorium doors opened and (star player) Tony Fryman walked in, still wearing his uniform — the gold jersey with maroon, and white pants. It was something to see. I’ll never forget it.

“I said right then, ‘I’m going to play baseball for Harrison County.”

And he played his way into the Dawahares/KHSAA Hall of Fame.

“To me, it’s the highest honor a Kentucky high school player can get,” Walker said. “It’s amazing.”

Shon Walker and his 10-year-old son Donovan, whom he helps coach in Little League.

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