Everything came full circle for this Canadian coach
Cam Walker talks about how things eventually come full circle.
For several years, Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College was the team to beat in the East District. Lately, it’s been Iowa Western.
“The baseball gods can’t smile on them all the time,” he said of some close games this season against the 2010 Alpine Bank Junior College World Series champion. “It always comes back around.”
They certainly have for Walker, who moved from Manitoba, Canada, to Centerville, Iowa, to play junior college baseball in 1980.
After two years there, he pitched at Western Kentucky, signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, was a minor-league All-Star, helped the El Paso Diablos win two Texas League championships, the Wichita Pilots another and played for the Canadian national team.
After his baseball career, he moved back to Centerville and got a call asking if he’d like to help coach the Falcons.
“Rick (Mathews, the former head coach) asked if I’d come back and help, and I was helping with some camps,” said Walker, who tonight will enter the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame. “I came back to volunteer as an assistant and was finishing my education at Truman State, about 40 miles away. It was an opportunity after pro ball to stay in the game and I jumped at it.”
Five years later, in 1992, Mathews moved into professional baseball with the Colorado Rockies and Walker was promoted to head coach. He just finished his 20th season as head coach and figures he’s not going anywhere.
“I really enjoy working with junior college players,” he said.
“You try to mold them, try to develop each to his potential and send them on to bigger and better things, four-year schools, Division I, or pro baseball.
“We’ve had a lot of successful players academically and baseball-wise, and life in general, and that’s real rewarding.”
Walker hasn’t won the JUCO title like his Iowa counterpart, Marc Rardin, but he’s reached the World Series seven times, including his first year as skipper, and has finished as high as third.
“That one year (1998) we won the national championship by proxy,” he deadpanned. “We 10-runned Cowley and we all had the same records, them, us and San Jac. We beat Cowley (County, Kan.) 17-7 and we flipped. They won the coin flip and went to the championship game. We were the only team to beat the national champions.
“I told my assistants that year to work on their coin flips, because I wasn’t doing it any more.”
As a kid who grew up in Canada, getting the chance to play in the U.S. is something Walker didn’t take lightly, and he continues to give foreign athletes that chance. Indian Hills has an English as a Second Language program, and said that helps all of the players, not just those from other countries.
“We had a shortstop sign with Minnesota right before school started and Rick was working with the Royals at the time and found a kid from Puerto Rico,” Walker said of the Falcons’ first foray into international recruiting.
“He was the perfect first guy from another area, valedictorian, spoke perfect English, and everything grew from there.
“Rick got involved with the Rockies as an international scout and me being from Canada spread where our recruiting boundaries went from Iowa and 50 miles around it to world-wide.
“We tell the players they will get both a cultural education and a baseball education.”
Walker tells every team about the experience that is Grand Junction, urging them to strive to be the next Indian Hills team to reach the pinnacle of junior college baseball.
“It’s amazing how you think back to all the different trips to the World Series, what a great experience it is for the players,” he said.
“It’s a great way to top off the year. You can’t describe it to them, it’s something you have to pass on with the history and tradition of the program. The players feel the same way.
“There’s a closeness and the fond memories of the World Series.
“It’s more than any player can understand until they experience it.”
Walker coached in his 1,000th game in 2010 and is 781-383 in his career.
And although the Falcons didn’t qualify to make the trip with their coach, his induction is because of them, and the Falcons before them, plus the men who coached Walker.
“I don’t think the Hall of Fame is about the person being inducted,” he said. “It’s about everybody who’s touched him along the way.”