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O.K., so it isn't mythology on par with the story of Helen of
Troy, but Todd Walker's baseball career got a big boost because
of a cute girl. Eight years ago Walker, then a 5'10", 150-pound
sophomore second baseman at Airline High in Bossier City, La.,
led off a game in the 4A state championship tournament at
Louisiana State's Alex Box Stadium with a shocking home run, a
blast that got the Vikings rolling. "It turned out to be the
pivotal moment of my baseball career because I was dying to go
to LSU, and that hit opened some eyes," Walker says. "But to be
honest, at the time it meant more to me because I was trying to
impress this beautiful girl in the stands who was, well...."

The rest of the story is off the record because the object of
Walker's affection was the girlfriend of one of his Airline
teammates. Walker never got the girl, but he did get the
baseball scholarship to Louisiana State. While in Baton Rouge,
Walker became the first Tiger to hit .400, had a Southeastern
Conference-record 33-game hitting streak and needed just two
seasons to break Albert Belle's school mark for career RBIs.

On nights after those rare games in which Walker had struggled
at the plate, he would take swings under the lights in the
school's stadium--sometimes until it was early enough for
breakfast. "Baseball is a terrible job for a perfectionist like
me," Walker says. "I've had to work hard to stop punishing
myself for not getting a hit every time up."

A year after Louisiana State won the 1993 College World Series
and Walker, then a sophomore, was named the tournament's Most
Outstanding Player, he was selected with the eighth pick in the
major league draft and signed by the Twins for $815,000, a
franchise record for a draft choice. He has since excelled as a
hitter at every stop, displaying surprising power for a man who
is still just six feet, 177 pounds. Last season at Triple A Salt
Lake City, he hit .339 with 28 homers and led all minor leaguers
in hits (187) and total bases (330).

However, Walker was a good-stick-no-glove player, and his
weaknesses in the field were amplified when he shifted to third
base in 1995 because Minnesota had a two-time All-Star, Chuck
Knoblauch, entrenched at second. This winter Walker spent many
hours bouncing a tennis ball off his garage door in Bossier City
to improve his hand-eye coordination, and in spring training he
says he fielded at least 3,000 grounders. He still suffers
lapses on defense, as he did in a spring training game when he
got caught playing in for a possible bunt with two strikes on a

"Not to throw stones, but growing up, this kid has obviously
been geared to swinging the bat, and his defense has been
neglected," says Twins manager Tom Kelly. "He is a talented
young hitter, but sometimes he really makes me scratch my head
when he's in the field."

Walker understands that for the first time in his career his
glove will determine how much playing time he gets. But it's his
bat that makes him one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year.
Someday we might even have a name for that girl from Airline
High: The Face That Launched a Thousand Hits. Perhaps more.




2B Chuck Knoblauch
In 1996 broke Rod Carew's club record for runs (140)

CF Rich Becker
Career year (12 HRs, 71 RBIs) after he stopped switch-hitting

DH Paul Molitor
First 40-year-old to get 200 hits since Sam Rice in '30

1B Scott Stahoviak
Must produce early or could be platooned with Greg Colbrunn

LF Marty Cordova
His meager total of 16 dingers led the Twins last season

C Terry Steinbach
Set league record for catchers with 34 homers in '96

RF Matt Lawton
Will battle for playing time with Roberto Kelly

SS Pat Meares
Had just 17 walks in 517 at bats in '96

3B Todd Walker
Batting ninth so he'll feel less pressure to produce

Ace Brad Radke
Allowed 40 home runs in '96, tied for most in the majors

Closer Mike Trombley
Six saves last year, leads bullpen by committee


The Twins scored only 22% of their runs last season on homers,
the lowest percentage in the majors. (The average was 35%.)
Oddly, Minnesota also ranked last with 20 sacrifice bunts, the
second-lowest total for a nonstrike season. Tom Kelly's disdain
for the sacrifice has become a trademark: The Twins ranked sixth
in the American League in that category in Kelly's first full
season (1987) but have ranked in the bottom half every year since.