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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hatchet Homecoming: Walker coaches against former team

BAD AXE — From Bad Axe bat boy, to four-year varsity standout, to assistant coach, to varsity head coach.
Todd Walker’s steady climb up the baseball food chain was never in doubt, according to his former coach Wayne Turmell.
“It was pretty obvious from the start,” Turmell said. “You could see the coaching qualities in him pretty early on.”
Walker, a 1998 Bad Axe graduate, had a sort of homecoming here Friday night. He made his first trip back to the Bad Axe diamond as a head coach, taking on his mentor and the Hatchets for the first time as the varsity leader at Deckerville.
“It’s pretty special,” Walker said. “I have taken a lot of stuff as a coach from my days at Bad Axe and from Wayne... A lot of the offense we run — the bunting and the running — I took from Wayne. He’s been a great coach, and the program has been so good, for a long time.”
Walker also wears No. 26, just like Turmell.
Walker’s presence with the Bad Axe program started way back in the late 1980s. He lived close to the Bad Axe field, and his father, Ed, is a friend with Turmell.
“I started being a bat boy for Bad Axe when I was in second grade,” Walker said. “I actually remember skipping Little League practice to come and bat boy for varsity games.”
Turmell remembers it, too.
“He hung around practice pretty much every chance he got,” Turmell said. “He seemed to be taking (batting practice) off of somebody all the time.”
Those years of being a bat boy quickly turned into a four-year stint as a second baseman with the Hatchets, starting with the 1995 season.
“We were not very good Todd’s freshman year,” Turmell recalls. “In fact, we were 7-16 — we were awful.”
Despite the shaky start to his varsity career, Turmell knew it was only a matter of time before Walker turned into a leader on the field.
“He was pretty quiet his freshman year, but during the second and third years, yes, he kind of took over,” Turmell said. “He took charge. And everyone knew that was going to happen because he had been around (the program) for so long.
“To get a kid to step forward and take charge like that, it takes a special quality. And those kids aren’t always the most liked because they are vocal and they are not afraid to speak their mind. They are not afraid to say, ‘Look guys, this is how it needs to be done.’ It’s a rare quality. But it’s something good teams need.”
The Hatchets had one of their better seasons during Walker’s senior year, advancing all the way to the regional finals before losing to eventual Division 3 state runner-up Saginaw Nouvel.
After his high school career, it didn’t take long for Walker to get the coaching itch. He started as a junior varsity coach at Bad Axe before moving south to Deckerville. With the Eagles, he was the JV head coach and varsity assistant before taking over head varsity duties this spring.
Despite enduring several injuries this season, the Eagles have a chance to grab the North Central Thumb League’s South Division championship later this month. The Eagles are 10-4 in league play with four games left to play.
 “We have had lots of injuries this season, but we have a pretty good group,” Walker said. “The best I have it figured is that if we win out we will at least get a tie for the league title.”
Walker credits former head coach Steve Noble for turning Deckerville’s baseball program around. The Eagles struggled for a long time on the diamond before Noble came in a few years ago and brought the program back to respectability.
“He did so much for this program,” Walker said. “I have taken a lot of stuff from Steve, too.”
Turmell said he’s had a few other former players who have become involved in coaching high school and college baseball, but this is the first time he’s had one make a visit back to their old diamond as a head coach.
“I think it’s a pretty neat thing,” he said.
While this is Walker’s first season as head coach, Turmell has been the leader at Bad Axe since 1982.
Walker isn’t so sure he’s going to stick around that long.
“I have really enjoyed doing this so far this season, but I don’t know if it’s going to be a 30-year thing like Wayne,” Walker said. “But we will see what happens.”
Turmell has some sound advice for his former player if he wants to stick around on the bench that long.
“You better marry somebody who likes to hang around a baseball diamond,” Turmell joked.
Ironically, Walker is set to get married later this summer to Chelsea Szymanski, who was on-hand for Walker’s homecoming.
“But I am not sure if baseball is up her alley,” he said. “We’ll see, I guess.”

Todd Walker and Wayne Turmell stand at home plate before Friday’s game between the Hatchets and Eagles. Walker played for Turmell for four years, and is now head coach at Deckerville.

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