You would expect a baseball player who made it to the big leagues to have grown up on the game, the star of their Little League and high school teams. But that wasn’t the case with IT Systems Manager Eric Walls, who played for the Kansas City Royals from 1992-1996.
Eric didn’t even play baseball in high school, focusing instead on wrestling, cross country and track. In fact, prior to college, his only experience with baseball was playing for the t-ball team that his dad coached when he was a kid.
While attending Greenville College, Eric’s roommate suggested that he try out for the baseball team, in spite of his lack of experience. But Eric was fast, and what he lacked in experience he made up for with speed. “As it turns out,” he recalls, “I made a perfect pinch hitter. When I tried out, my 60 yard dash time was faster than average by several seconds.”
It wasn’t long until Eric was offered a full baseball scholarship to Kaskaskia College. While there, Eric received pre-draft camp invitations from the Chicago White Sox, the Cincinnati Reds, the Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals. “The next thing I knew,” he recalls, “people started congratulating me on being drafted to play for Kansas City.” It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and he took it, even though it meant delaying the completion of his education.
“It really wasn’t until I was playing for the majors that I truly fell in love with baseball,” Eric admits. From 1992 to 1996, Eric was a pinch hitter and outfielder for the Royals and Royals-affiliated minor league teams, including the Rockford Royals. During his best season, he hit .320, led the team in triples, and was one of the team’s top performers in doubles, overall hits, RBIs and stolen bases.
Eric hit his first home run towards the end of his first season with the Royals. During a game against the Florida Marlins, Eric remembers hitting the ball as hard as he could before taking off to first base. When he rounded second, thinking that he had hit a double, he noticed his entire dugout was cracking up. “That’s when I realized I had hit my first ever home run, and I just started celebrating and show-boating on my way back to home plate.”
When Eric’s manager reminded him that it was against etiquette to show up the pitcher, he admitted that he didn’t really care because he was so excited. “Then, at my next at bat,” he continues, “the pitcher threw at me. As I took first base, I made sure to tip my helmet to him, letting him know I understood.”
Another memorable moment was the time that a pitch knocked him out cold. “I was the second at-bat, and the first pitch was inside and out-of-the-way.” Eric thought he was ready for the second pitch, but it bounced off of his jaw and bruised his arm. He was out for nearly seven minutes. “When I came to,” he recalls, “I thought I had only been out for a few seconds. I was ready to take first base, but my teammates grabbed me and told me that I had to sit out.” It wasn’t until after Eric returned to the dugout that one of his teammates told him that he’d forgotten to mention that that particular pitcher was known for his aggressive pitches.
Eventually, Eric wanted to move forward with his personal and professional life, and left baseball to finish his academic career. “My agent and family may have been a little upset, but since I didn’t grow up on the game, I felt ready to move on. To this day, I don’t have any hangups about walking away.”
Twenty years later, Eric is an IT professional with a family. “My son is typical video game-loving teenager now,” he says, “but I made sure to start him off with baseball, and he played until he was 15.” Eric also has a daughter who is a gymnast. “She is very competitive, and recently placed 15th in her national competition.”