Walker excited to learn from one of childhood heroes

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The first time he ran into his new hitting coach, at the mid-December PirateFest, Neil Walker approached Jay Bell as sheepishly as little kids approach him.

"I was a huge fan of you growing up," Walker said to Bell, adding, "I just wanted to get that out of the way, so we can move on."

The Pittsburgh native grew up rooting for the Bucs, and his recollections go back to when he was about five -- to the middle of the 1990-92 title run when Bell was the everyday shortstop. So having Bell, as well as Mike LaValliere, the catcher on those clubs, in camp makes this a special Spring Training for Walker.

The Bucs second baseman already has a new appreciation for Bell, as a hitting tutor.

"He'll be good for us. He's less mechanical, talks more about the process," said Walker, contrasting Bell's style to that of predecessor Gregg Ritchie. "Like how you figure to be pitched in certain situations. More fundamental stuff. And he's so intelligent, very good at conveying his thoughts."

The influences of those 1990-92 Pirates on Walker run deep.

"I became a switch-hitter because of Bobby Bonilla," he said, referring to the powerful switch-hitting right fielder on those teams.