CHICAGO -- Atlanta Braves hitting coach Greg Walker admitted he is having an emotional return to Chicago this week.
The former White Sox hitting coach, who left his position after the 2011 season, has been in town since Tuesday to visit a city that he admits will always feel like home.
It wasn’t exactly comfortable for him in 2011, though, as the White Sox’s offense struggled and most of manager Ozzie Guillen’s coaching staff was under fire.
“I hated to leave but it was time to go,” Walker said Friday from the visiting dugout at U.S. Cellular Field. “I might have stayed too long actually, but I knew there would be a day when I would say, ‘OK, I’m not the right guy for the job anymore,’ and I figured it out that last year about halfway through. I talked to some of the players and the veterans and talked to (chairman) Jerry (Reinsdorf) and said that would be it.”
It was a tough time for Walker, who broke down in tears on the last day of the 2011 season while talking about his pending departure. It wasn’t long before an opportunity with the Braves presented itself.
“First of all, when I left here, I didn’t know if I was going to do this job anymore and then the Braves’ job came open and me being from Georgia it ended up being very intriguing,” said Walker, who lives three hours south of Atlanta. “I grew up a Braves fan. The place that I played and team I grew up watching, I got to be the hitting coach so it’s good. I like it. I ended up in a good spot.”
Walker took plenty of heat for White Sox offenses that struggled, but this year’s Braves team entered the second half first in the National League in home runs (114), third in runs scored (415), third in slugging percentage (.412), fourth in on-base percentage (.324).
He has been able to return to town with his head held high. He went to dinner with Paul Konerko and his wife early in the week and has been visiting with his own two daughters and two grandchildren, who live in the Chicago area.
“I just have a lot of friends in this city and this city always treated me great,” said Walker, who had never set foot in the visiting clubhouse at U.S. Cellular Field until Thursday when the Braves had an optional workout. “I know there was controversy at times about my job and whether I needed to go or whatever. I didn’t let that bother me too much over the years. I knew how Jerry felt and how the organization felt. But I did know that there would be a point where I would wake up one day and know I wasn’t the guy and I did. That last year it was very obvious to me.”
Walker says he harbors no ill will for anybody that pushed him closer to the exit in Chicago, including White Sox fans and media members. He knows how his profession works. His message to hitters isn’t much different than the one that was passed down to him as a player and he knows that sometimes that message no longer gets across.
“I hate to say that because I hate to see guys that do this job get looked at like that, but for me personally I know it’s the truth,” he said. “I’ve been with some of the guys so long. Going through all this stuff we went through over the years, some of it good, some of it not so good, it got to be that’s was where the focus was rather than the actual job itself.
“I’m grateful that I stayed here as long as I did, I’m grateful that we won the World Series, we won a lot of games, the players had great years and made money. The White Sox were really relevant here for a long time, more than when we left here. When we won in ’05 the White Sox were rocking and rolling. I’m proud of that. I hadn’t second guessed my decision to leave at all. Without a doubt it was one of the better decisions I made because it was the right thing to do.”