BRADENTON, Fla. -- The situation is analogous to getting one-on-one songwriting lessons from Bob Dylan, or discussing Irish literature with James Joyce.
For a few hours every day.
When Pirates second baseman Neil Walker trots out for morning drills in spring training, he is almost always accompanied by former Pirates great Bill Mazeroski, a second baseman who won eight Gold Glove awards, is in the Hall of Fame and is a special instructor at camp.
Mazeroski is regarded as one of the best defensive infielders to play Major League Baseball.
"How many guys have that at their disposal? How many guys like me have a guy like that helping them out?" said Walker, in his first spring training as a full-time second baseman. "I am going to try to get every ounce of information I can out of him."
It is one thing to learn, yet another to apply it.
To watch Walker in the middle of the diamond on Sunday afternoon against Tampa Bay was to see his growth, a rise in his comfort level.
On a hard hit grounder to shortstop Ronny Cedeno, Walker hurried to the bag, reeled in the throw from Cedeno and, in one efficient motion, unloaded the ball to first as the pivot man in the 6-4-3 double play. Walker then coolly sidestepped the runner bearing down on him from first. He looked the part of a natural second baseman.
"Quite athletic kid," Mazeroski said of Walker. "He has picked a lot up in a short time. But you don't just pick it up, you have to want to pick it up."
No doubt, Walker wants this.
"To be honest, not every guy seeks me out," Mazeroski said. "Neil comes and sees me all the time. He has a strong desire to get better."
Maybe that is because Walker has a disadvantage as a middle infielder, as he is 6 feet 3, 215 pounds -- larger than most infielders.
"Biggest second baseman I have played with," Cedeno said. "But he is a very good athlete, he is such a good athlete."
Admittedly, Walker understands the difficulty a player of his size can have as a second baseman.
"It can be a little bit tougher for me because of my size," he said. "So, we are working on catching the baseball and not having a long transfer and getting rid of it. Sometimes, I want to have a long transfer, I want to hold the ball a little longer and not get it out as quickly. But the transfer is what made Maz Maz. He's worked with me and really told me that the quicker my feet are going to be, the quicker my hands are going to be."
Cedeno, who has played in the majors since 2005 and Walker mentioned as a big part of his improvement, has already witnessed the rapid progression.
"He is getting faster every day with his hands, much faster," Cedeno said. "He is learning. You can see it. He works so hard to get better."
• The Pirates won one and lost one in split squad action Monday. At home against the Orioles, the Pirates lost, 6-4. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez was a bright spot, going 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. Starting pitcher Paul Maholm, by prescription, threw predominately fastballs and sinkers in his predetermined two-inning outing. He gave up four hits and two earned runs. A Pirates split squad defeated the Tampa Bay Rays, 6-5, in Port Charlotte after fighting back from a 4-0 deficit. Garrett Atkins hit a three-run home run and Josh Fields had an RBI.
• Joe Beimel, who missed his scheduled one-inning appearance Sunday with arm soreness, received treatment Monday. The plan is for him to go through the throwing program today; his status will then be re-evaluated.
on the web
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Colin Dunlap: email@example.com First Published March 1, 2011 5:00 AM