By Maren Angus
For the past 33 years, Kirk Walker has been in a dugout alongside a Pac-12 team every spring. Between the University of California Los Angeles and Oregon State, Walker has a career coaching record of 1,042-581-4. He’s coached players like Lisa Fernandez and Debbie Doom to Tracy Compton and Ally Carda.
He isn’t an ordinary softball coach though. He also pitches for several men’s fastpitch teams in Southern California and his career began as a 13-year-old kid.
“I was helping my sister’s teams and that’s how I learned how to pitch,” said Walker. “The first time I actually played I was a sophomore or junior at UCLA and Shelia Cornell Douty played in a men’s league in Burbank.”
Walker continued to throw batting practice to Douty and then she extended an invitation for him to come play in the men’s league with her at Balboa Park in Burbank.
“I started playing in the winter about two nights a week and then I got picked up to play on a travel team,” said Walker. “I did that and started getting more competitive, playing in nationals and not too much longer after I got the head coaching job at Oregon State.”
Walker continued to play with his travel team in Southern California in the offseason and in 1999, he found himself pitching in the national championship game of the ASA Nationals. The first inning put a hold on his career when he blew out his ACL.
There wasn’t any time to get the knee fixed and rehab especially with coaching all year at Oregon State and then coaching the California Commotion (Women’s Major) in the summer. Until Dot Richardson had an idea.
“She was doing her fellowship at Kerlan-Jobe Institute and she told me to come in and get my knee checked,” said Walker. “She wasn’t the one who did the ACL reconstruction but she was in the operating room and she sewed up my knee. So that was pretty cool that Dr. Dot Richardson sewed up knee.”
By 2012, Walker had moved back to Oregon and back, Douty got him the circle and Richardson fixed his knee. The next step was to come out of retirement. Enter, University of Arizona legend Debbie Day.
“Debbie Day came to my Christmas party after I moved back (in 2012) and she asked me if I could do her a favor,” said Walker. “She was pitching in the Burbank men’s league and had to miss a game and she needed me to pitch one night. I went to the park and there were two guys on her team that I played with 15 years earlier on my travel team. I had a blast and Debbie said I could keep coming out and we could split time.”
Walker continued to pitch in the league and by the end of the season; Day asked if he wanted to play on her master’s travel team. The duo won the national championship and it was Walker who took home the Most Valuable Player Award.
Growing up around the sport has given Walker the opportunity not only coach at the collegiate level but at the Olympic level. He has been around the best of the best and has seen the evolution of both the men and women’s game. The biggest difference between the two now is the crow hop.
“The crow hop in the men’s game is popular with the new generation of pitchers. If you go back and look at pictures of Mike White (Head Coach, Oregon), he wasn’t a leaper,” said Walker. “Crow hopping is definitely more prevalent today in the men’s game but hasn’t always been that way.”
According to Walker, men already have the advantage with their upper body when it comes to strength. The mechanics should be the same but some men can get away bad mechanics because of their strength.
“I can’t crow hop,” said Walker. “I tried it. I had no power. I couldn’t throw a strike. I start out like your standard college pitcher and I’ve been successful that way.”
“The women’s game exploded with college ball which expanded to the youth level while on the men’s side guys would just play baseball,” said Walker. “We have to keep the men’s game alive and continue to bring in new players.”
The softball journey for Walker has definitely been a “blessing.” He continues to ride his success both in the dugout and in the circle. As he enters his 17th season with UCLA, he can also be found in Burbank on Wednesday nights with 46 feet between him and home plate.