By Jack Dougherty, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Major League Baseball draft is unlike any other in the realm of sports.
Roger Goodell calls the names of more than 250 lucky football prospects throughout seven rounds. The NBA draft features just two rounds and 60 total players. There's effectively no margin for error.
For the MLB, it's wildly different. Thousands of players every year get the call they've been dreaming of since they could barely fit a glove on their tiny hands.
One of those players is Penn State alumnus Johnny Walter, who got that call in 2012. The Kansas City Royals were on the line.
Walter was drafted in the 29th round and decided to forgo his senior season in Happy Valley to fulfill his lifelong dream. It was a moment he'll cherish forever, but he knows his journey is only beginning.
The minor league system can be a cruel process, knocking you down right when you thought you had a shot to surpass the next hurdle. The multitude of levels and constant traveling can be as taxing on someone as a regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job.
It takes years to climb from one level to the next. Just ask Walter.
He has played for various teams in four different levels of minor league ball and was released twice in his four years in the system. But he kept fighting.
Walter was picked up by the St. Louis Cardinals a full year after being released from the Cincinnati Reds in 2015 and has finally found a home, he says.
Walter reached Double-A for the Springfield Cardinals this past summer. He bounced around from Single-A to Double-A and back, but he's currently still with Springfield.
"I learned basically my first outing in Double A that they just don't miss fastballs," Walter said. "They're a lot more discipline hitters. It's the biggest jump I've experienced so far from high A to double A."
For Walter, the nonstop jumping around from team to team and city to city isn't all that bad. He has relished the opportunity to play in historic places like Lexington, Kentucky for the Royals and Springfield, Missouri for the Cardinals.
Throughout his minor league career, Walter has posted a 13-14 record to the tune of a 3.86 ERA. He has struck out 166 batters in 200.2 innings on the hill.
Although Walter has made strides to climb the ranks in the minors, he's still working toward achieving his goals off the field. Walter is currently back on campus working toward finishing his degree in supply chain with a minor in MIS.
Walter is in the midst of his final semester. It has taken some time because the baseball season eats up a chunk of the school schedule, but Walter is determined to finish what he started six years ago.
"I definitely just value my education and I think that's something my parents instilled in me when I was younger, so just to work hard and finish what you start anyway."
Failure is not something anyone wants to have in their mind when working toward their dreams, but the harsh reality of the minor leagues puts players in the position to take into account life after baseball.
Walter doesn't know when that'll come, but when it does he'll be prepared to lift himself back up and conquer the world from a different perspective.
"I definitely know I need a backup plan because even if I'm in the big leagues next year and have a 10-year career, that's just 10 years of your life," Walter said. "And that's a very long career, too, so it's always good to have a backup plan."
Walter has been working out with the Penn State team while in town. He can be found in the weight room or studying, sometimes right in the locker room.
Head coach Rob Cooper arrived in State College a year after Walter departed for the minors, so he was never able to coach him. Cooper has only been accustomed to Walter through his workouts at Medlar Field and his presence in the locker room in the offseason, but that presence is extremely valued by him and the team.
"He does a really good job of talking to [the current players] about what pro ball is like and he's a very determined guy," Cooper said. "I wish I would've gotten to coach him."
Cooper has never seen Walter in game action, but simply watching him throw a few bullpens has Cooper optimistic about Walter's future.
"He has got a chance," Cooper said. "He has just got to keep going out
there when he gets his opportunities and getting it done. If he does that he's
got a chance to continue to play."