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WATCH NOW: Sioux City Explorers' Jared Walker honors family on his path up professional baseball

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Jared Walker, an outfielder for the Sioux City Explorers, talks about the meaning of family after the loss of his mother, father and brother.

SIOUX CITY — When Sioux City Explorers first baseman Jared Walker steps onto the grass at Mercy Field, he doesn’t do so alone. He carries his family with him, every step of the way. 

Walker has made a name for himself this season with the Explorers. Through the first several weeks of the season, he has clubbed six home runs, a team-high 23 RBI, 25 hits, and has 25 runs scored, along with a .316  batting average, and a 1.038 OPS, as of June 12.

Walker came to the Explorers this season after spending six years in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He made it as far as the AA level, where he hit .212 in 2019, with 13 home runs, 34 RBI, and 134 strikeouts in his final season with Los Angeles. 

After being let go by the Dodgers, Walker spent parts of 2019 and 2020 in the Australian Baseball League, where he seemed to find his groove at the plate, hitting a total of 12 home runs and 45 RBI in 66 games. 

Walker now occupies a place in the middle of the X’s lineup for the foreseeable future, and so far, the X’s coaches and players have been impressed by his abilities. 

After his explosive start to the season, Walker was named as the American Association's PURE Performance Player of the Month for May. 

“It was a big get,” Sioux City manager Steve Montgomery said. “He was on our radar, and he was a guy that you knew had the capability of coming in here and hitting. You heard from scouts and organizations that he had power to all fields, like it was like light tower power. And what is more impressive with Jared is the work ethic. He comes here every single day, and he really works hard at his task.”

Off the field, Walker and his girlfriend, Victoria Passmore, are expecting a baby girl, and Walker also has a six-year old emotional support dog named Nellie, which makes regular appearances at the ballpark. 

With a happy home life and the big numbers he is putting up this year for the X’s, things seem to be going pretty well for Walker. But it hasn’t always been that way. There have been some very dark times for the slugger, and the past decade has been peppered by personal tragedy and loss. 

With all he has been through, it has been a challenge for Walker to arrive where he is today. Today, he is a young man with perspective and life wisdom that seems years ahead of his time. And he's also a ballplayer doing his best to fulfill his dream of making it to the major leagues. 

Family Life

Walker grew up in Powder Springs, Ga., near Atlanta, the youngest of three boys. His oldest brother, Clint, was 10 years his senior, and the middle brother, Nick, is 14 months older than Jared. Walker grew up close with his family – the brothers, his mother, Tammy Gilbert, and his grandmother, Nellie Wood, whom he calls “Granny.”

When Walker was in kindergarten, he had his first experience with personal loss when his father, Calvin Walker, died after falling in the bathtub and hitting his head. 

“He lived on his own and was stuck there and passed away,” Walker said. “As we got older, my brothers kind of guided me and my mom took care of us. Through high school, I lived with my two older brothers, and we were all close.”

The three remained close throughout childhood, until Jared’s senior year, when Clint, the oldest brother, died unexpectedly from a drug overdose. Walker remembers coming home from a workout over Christmas break and seeing Clint asleep in bed, and thinking nothing of it. 

When he woke up, Nick was screaming that Clint had died. It is a moment that still sticks with Walker. 

For a long time, Walker never talked about what caused it. But after a lot of reflection, he decided it was more constructive to use Clint’s example as a teaching moment for others. 

“In moments like that, you never know how that feels, or if it even feels real,” Walker said. “Just feeling that and understanding that at a young age, you try to hide what actually happened. I didn’t speak for a long time. But knowing that he passed away from a drug overdose, I want people to learn from that.”

The grief from that loss persisted for Walker throughout his senior year. He sometimes cried at baseball games and disconnected emotionally, but he managed to hold on, thanks to the strength of his mother and grandmother. 

In June of his senior year, Walker was drafted by the Dodgers in the fifth round of the MLB draft. Around that same time, Walker’s mother went into the hospital, on dialysis, where she remained for Walker’s entire first season of professional baseball. Though she was sick, she and Jared spoke on the phone every night. 

“It got to the point where I was not expecting the worst,” Walker said. “It was more that people go to the hospital, and they get better, you would assume. That had happened, and I think that her heart was broken from when my brother passed away.”

Walker came home for two weeks before leaving for the Dodgers’ instructional league, and spent every night with his mother at the hospital. Soon after, on Oct. 30, 2014, she died, the second close family member Walker had lost in the span of a year.

“She made it seem like everything was okay, but she told me that I always needed to make sure, don’t let this stop me from doing what I know I need to be doing,” Walker said. “I think that is why you see me with the way I play, and the type of person I try to be toward people; it comes from the character of my mom and my grandma. Just going through that has impacted me.”

After his mother’s death, Walker and his grandmother remained close, until she died in 2019. He gives her credit for helping him find perspective in his grief. Within all of the loss his grandmother had seen in a long life, Walker found the strength to carry on. 

“My granny is a person that created all of us,” Walker said. “My brother, my mom, she was the start of all that. She was still alive, and she had been through so much more than me. She’d lost sisters, parents, she’s lost her own kids, being my mom and my mom’s brother. Just seeing that, and looking at myself in the mirror like 'I’m only 18 years old. My granny went through all that, and she’s made it this far to 86 or 87 years old. I can do it.' That helped me so much for the few years after to be where I am now.”

Every time he takes his position now, Walker writes a personal message in the dirt, in honor of his family. 

Wherever he is on the field, they’re never more than a few feet away. 

Starting his own family

These days, Walker is still very close with his older brother, Nick, whom he calls his ‘best friend in the world.’

The pair have matching tattoos that honor their mother and brother. Jared also has a tattoo of his late father, as well as one of his grandfather and grandmother, with a breast cancer ribbon and a note in his grandmother’s handwriting: “Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day.”

Walker has a family of his own now too. Jared and Passmore met last year, and quickly hit it off, spending every day together until Walker left to play ball in the ABL. They will soon welcome a baby girl named Romee Renee Walker, the same middle name as Walker’s mother. 

At 25 years old with a baby on the way, Walker admits that he feels pressure to perform on the field, with the goal still to make it to the big leagues. But it isn’t crippling or anxious pressure.

Instead, sometimes he steps out of the batter's box when he has two strikes on him, and says four words to himself. 

“This is for Romee.”

“In baseball, we worry so much about our mechanics, that that mental side takes over,” Walker said. “You just kind of jump in, and that just takes over through an at-bat. It’s pressure when needed. Knowing I have a kid, it is pressure when needed.”

Whatever pressure he feels as a soon-to-be father isn’t apparent when Walker is at the plate. The hits have come in bunches, and he hasn't struck out as often this season as he has in years past. 

Walker has drawn 17 walks this season, second-most on the team.  

“The biggest thing in baseball, for me, is that I want to be a guy that drives in a lot of RBIs, has a high on-base percentage, and hits for power,” Walker said. “That is going to come and go, but if I can get on base, that means I am doing something for the team.”

Major league scouts will notice Walker’s numbers, if they haven’t already, and Montgomery knows that he might not have the lefty masher in his lineup for long.

“We’re doing everything in our power to get him another shot,” Montgomery said. “Whether it comes tomorrow or comes at the end of the year, I fully expect that he will get another shot.”

Walker is eager to get to the big leagues, but he also knows that baseball is not going to last forever. He wants to make a difference off the field as well, and with all of COVID-caused downtime over the past year, he has begun to think about how he can make an impact. 

He eventually wants to start his own foundation to help single-parent households, like the one he grew up in, and he also hopes to help grow the popularity of baseball in the inner cities, like his hometown of Atlanta. 

“There is a lot more to me than baseball, but there is also a lot that baseball can bring out of me to help with other people.” Walker said.

With his baseball pedigree, Walker might soon leave Sioux City behind for the next stop on his vagabond baseball journey. But while he is here in an Explorers uniform, he plans to give the fans their money’s worth. 

“If I can worry about today, and not worry about tomorrow, one day it’s going to come, and I am going to be ready,” Walker said. “If I’m here the whole season, I’m going to put on a show from Day 1 to the end of the season.”


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