By Jeffery Armstrong
Jonesboro High senior baseball player Harold Walker has come a long way since he first started playing the game at the age of eight.
"When he first got out there and started playing, he was hit by every pitch and he was frustrated," said Walker's father Harold Walker, Sr. "I had to work with him and tell him not to give up, not to get discouraged."
Instead of hanging his head, Walker trained hard with his father and worked on his game, getting better and better each year. He worked his way to becoming Jonesboro's ninth-grade baseball Rookie of the Year in 2002 and he was voted as Most Improved Player during his first stint on the varsity as a sophomore in 2003. All the hard work through the years has paid off - the senior center fielder signed a letter of intent to play college baseball at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) Monday morning in the Jonesboro High media center.
"This feels great; there's no pressure on me now and I can concentrate on winning games here at Jonesboro," Walker said. "This is a dream come true for me. My goal was to play on my high school team and then play college baseball. The next goal for me will be hopefully getting drafted into the major leagues."
Harold Sr. said seeing his youngest son achieve this milestone is a thrill for him and his wife Veronica.
"It's been an uphill battle at times, but I've enjoyed every minute of it. I knew that he was ready to play college baseball once he got the Most Improved Player award as a sophomore," said Harold Sr. "That's when our training increased; we hit the batting cages, worked with other trainers, worked on his fielding and made sure he hit the books (Harold Jr. sports a 3.33 GPA) very hard."
Veronica said she'll miss her son "a whole lot" but is glad that he chose to go to SCAD. She said she is excited at this opportunity for Harold.
"It's so nice to see that the hard work has paid off. All Harold has to do now is stand up and be a man and hit the ball," she said. "Hopefully, he'll distance himself from any bad influences and continue to go to church like we've instilled in him. I know he'll do well once he gets over the culture shock of being away from home - he's a mature young man and is real serious about his baseball."
Walker chose SCAD because he enjoyed the campus and liked how the current players and coaches accepted him on his visit there last year.
Walker will also get the chance to play right away as a freshman since SCAD's current center fielder is a senior. Plus, out of the nine schools that accepted Walker, SCAD was the only university to give him a full athletic scholarship. Walker will be the only African-American player on the team, but he feels that he won't have any problems fitting in.
"The great part of going to SCAD is that I will be able to start right away and I also have family and friends in Savannah," Walker said. "There are good coaches and people on the team and the school will help me with a great degree plan."
Walker plans to major in Game Development-Visual Effects which is part of the Computer Art program and plans on doing computer animation after graduation. But before Walker gets to college, there's the business of finishing up his senior baseball season at Jonesboro. Walker said he will continue to work hard after practice to lead Jonesboro far into the state playoffs and once his high school season is over, he will work to show the SCAD coaches that he belongs on their team.
"My goal is to work on my weaknesses over the summer and increase my speed and get stronger for my freshman season," Walker said. "I will definitely follow a summer workout program that SCAD has for incoming players."
SCAD head baseball coach Doug Wollenburg looks forward to having Walker on his team.
"We're very excited to get a player like Harold. He's got the tools like arm strength and speed and we want him to develop into the best player he can be," he said. "He should make an immediate impact on our team."
"We're real proud of Harold here at Jonesboro. He is a good kid and it's a thing of beauty to see him play center field, especially since he saves a lot of runs for us on the defensive end," said Jonesboro head baseball coach Don Corr. "He's been great as a three-year starter and we'll miss him deeply here."