Colin Dunlap: Neil Walker Keeps Late Friend Close To His Heart
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Neil Walker didn’t want to be on a baseball field.
Which, if you know Neil Walker at all, you know is the most abnormal feeling Neil Walker can have.
Walker was on a baseball field in Missouri while one of his best friends the past 15 years was in a hospital room in South Carolina dying.
Imagine what was going through Walker’s head; imagine how exasperating of a day that must have been.
It was a few weekends ago and Walker, the Pirates’ 28-year-old second baseman, doesn’t remember much from the final game of a three-game series in St. Louis on Sunday, April 27.
He was still too stunned from a text he got the night before.
His friend, Clint Seymour, was going to die.
It was imminent. Cruel, unfair, without-warning and imminent.
Seymour, 27, and originally from Mt. Lebanon, was punched in the head during an altercation on a Charleston, S.C., street the night before. His head smacked off the ground and he never regained consciousness.
When Walker got off the field following a Saturday night win against the Cardinals, and made his way into the Busch Stadium visiting clubhouse, he had a text he could never prepare for. It was from Don Seymour — Clint’s father.
The text said Clint was, for the most part, dead.
“My first thought was that this had to be a joke,” Walker said.
His friend — who Walker first started playing baseball with when the pair was 13 — was on life support.
“I called my wife [Niki] and she was crying,” said Walker, as he solemnly looked into his feet in the Pirates dugout on Monday during batting practice, recounting the horrible experience. “Then, I called another buddy of ours and he was upset. It was tough.”
Walker pushed through the rest of that St. Louis night, trying as much as he could to determine what had happened.
How did Seymour end up in this situation?
How could a big, strapping, handsome athletic former baseball player at Eastern Kentucky University now be in the final stages of his Earthly existence?
Were the people responsible for this going to be caught?
How were Seymour’s parents going to deal with this moving forward?
How was Walker, himself, going to deal with this moving forward?
And then, after a restless night, Walker had to take the field for the Pirates in that Sunday game.
“That was the first time in my entire life that my mind was anywhere but the baseball field while I was on it,” Walker said. “As creatures of habit in baseball, you’re always able to get into a mode and just focus on the game. That day, I couldn’t.”
The Pirates then went from St. Louis to Baltimore for Monday’s scheduled off day, where Walker’s wife met him and they flew to Charleston.
As they were traveling there, Walker might have attempted to prepare himself for what he would see.
Perhaps he held out hope that his friend would, somehow, pull through; maybe the flash of a miracle would sweep down on Seymour.
Reality, however, out-grappled hope.
“They were about to run some tests on brain activity on Clint when we got there,” Walker said. “They ran some test and they called Clint’s family into a room and his family wanted myself and my wife in there. And they said there was absolutely nothing they could do.
“He was completely brain dead. And we should just say our goodbyes.”
On Monday, April 28, Clint Seymour died at 27.
On Monday, May 5, Walker and I spoke in the Pirates dugout for this piece — the day meant much to Neil, as that day would have been Seymour’s 28th birthday.
Walker said the Pirates plan to include the Seymour family in a pregame ceremony at PNC Park this coming Saturday against the Cardinals, as the family has been season ticket holders for decades.
Peter Dudinyak, 26, is accused of punching Seymour, and, according to numerous reports, has been charged with assault and battery as the investigation into the incident continues.
For Walker, as he recalled the life of his friend, it had nothing to do with how it prematurely ended, instead, the experiences the two realized together.
Walker and Seymour started playing together when they were 13, when their fathers were part of a group that formed the Steel City Wildcats. The premise was simple: There didn’t seem to be enough quality competition in this area for elite youth baseball players, so they formed a travel team that would spend weekends on the road, competing against the best Eastern Pennsylvania or Ohio or Maryland or New York had.
“We didn’t really have a home field,” Walker said. “We traveled a lot, so you grew close. Clint and I hit it off and he loved baseball as much as I did. He was the kind of friend you wanted to surround yourself with.”
So much so that as Walker’s journey negotiated through the minor leagues and then back to his beloved Pittsburgh — and Seymour’s through college baseball and jobs in Pittsburgh and then South Carolina — the two remained close, taking every opportunity they could to get together.
As Walker and his wife made the long drive from their home in Pittsburgh to Bradenton, Fla., for the commencement of this past Spring Training, they broke up the trip up by stopping in Charleston, S.C. — where Seymour’s family had relocated from Mt. Lebanon.
“We’ve done that the past two years,” Walker said, his voice trailing off a bit.
Perhaps it was then he realized those trips wouldn’t continue.
Or, perhaps as we chatted in that Pirates dugout, Walker knew that if he and Niki were to stop at the Seymour home before next season, it would be without Clint there in the physical form.
“He was definitely a special person, special to me and special to a lot of people,” Walker said. “This has all kind of made me realize more to appreciate each day, to have fun with what you’re doing, to make sure to appreciate all you have and how appreciative I am to play this game for a living.
“And how grateful I am to have known Clint.”
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.
Mt. Lebanon Native Dies After Assault In South Carolina (4/29/14)
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