Leader Blues

Saturday, October 18, 2008

SPORTS>>Hugh Baby’ returns to JHS as hall of famer

Leader sportswriter

In life, a person can choose to be either an observer or a doer.

Hugh Walker chose the latter.

His career now may consist of observing young baseball talent around Arkansas and three other states for the San Francisco

Giants as a scout, but that comes after a lifetime of athletics, including a near eight-year stint as a player for the Kansas City Royals organization.

Walker is one of five inductees this year into the Jacksonville High School athletic Hall of Fame. The Class of ’88 alum was all-state in baseball his senior year, and all-conference his junior year. That came in the same season that Walker and a list of teammates that included Jimbo Griffin and current Jacksonville coach Barry Hickingbotham won the state title with a 12-6 win over Texarkana.

To say that Walker still bleeds Devil red would be a bit of an understatement.

“A lot of kids now may not realize that when we were younger, being a Red Devil meant everything,” he said. “You started thinking about it way back in the first or second grade. Back then, you knew who would go to which junior high because they did it alphabetically, so right then, you started sizing up the competition. It just meant so much.”

This year’s induction ceremony will be the second-year for the prestigious event. A who’s who of Jacksonville sports figures were inducted last year for the inaugural event, including longtime baseball coach Bob Hickingbotham and Dr. Dale Calhoon, along with local track legend Lamont Harris.

“To me, it’s right up there with being drafted in the first round,” Walker said of being honored. “Whenever Gaylon (Boshears) called to tell me, I was excited. There are a lot of quality people that I’m going to be with. It was awesome to see Coach
Hickingbotham and Dr. Calhoon get inducted last year. It’s nice to be recognized by your peers for what you’ve done.”

Walker went straight to the Royals after high school, and stayed with the organization over seven years before eventually becoming a hitting instructor for a season.

He moved back home to Jonesboro from there, and did a coaching stint at Nettleton, along with officiating football and basketball for six years. Walker then went back to college at Arkansas State. He graduated in 2004 with a major in sports management and a minor in radio/TV.

He’s still in the Jonesboro area, along with his wife of four years, Misty, and 14-month-old son Houston. Walker also has two daughters, Alana, 14, and Felicia, 12.

Walker is not an exception to the rule in his family, but rather the standard. His oldest brother Elroy was an all-state football player, and brother George was all state in both football and track. Another brother, Chad was also a standout athlete, and all three of his sisters were all-state athletes.

His deceased mother, Eunice Walker, was regarded as the No. 1 all-time Red Devil fan, which gives his induction a tinge of bittersweet, but Walker said his father George was ecstatic upon hearing the news of his son entering the Hall of Fame.

His list of accolades is endless. Along with being all state, Walker was a Gatorade All-American, national runner up for Gatorade Player of the Year, winner of the Golden Spikes award, a top-ten prospect in Baseball America, Rookie League Player of the Year, a two-time player of the year in the Northeast League, a Southern League Hustle Award winner and a team MVP for the Wilmington Blue Rocks.

With all of the different perspectives of sports from a variety of positions, Walker has only one regret in his life and career.

“I wish I would have played football my senior year,” he confesses. “I’ve always regretted that, but other than that, I absolutely wouldn’t change a single thing. There are very few kids that get to have that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I had the greatest opportunity in the world.”

That sentiment doesn’t just apply to his years as a player in the majors. His current role of major-league scout suits him just fine. Walker still remembers the day that Royals scout Kenny Gonzales spotted him at a game more than 20 years ago, and is more than happy to return the favor these days.

“When you get to congratulate a kid and tell them that there’s a contract for them, it’s just amazing to see the excitement,” Walker said. “You can see it on the kid’s face, his parents’ faces; it’s just incredible to see the joy that you bring.

“For me, it’s great to be able to reach out and give someone that same opportunity you’ve been handed.”

Walker was, and is still known to this day in Jacksonville by the moniker “Hugh Baby”. He said he doesn’t mind anyone calling him by his nickname, as long as they get those two names in the right order.

“Just don’t call me ‘Baby Huey’ – other than that, I don’t care,” he joked. “You call me something besides ‘Hugh Baby’ and there could be a fight.”