VIERA, Fla. - Zach Walters admits he has a bit of flair.
Born in Cheyenne, Wyo., but raised in Las Vegas, Walters has a colorful personality, and he’s got a bit of a colorful wardrobe, as well.
One day earlier this spring, Walters, an eager 23-year-old shortstop in the Nationals’ organization, was getting ready for a workout at the team’s facilities at Space Coast Stadium. He tossed on a pair of sneakers that had what Walters described as “blindingly neon green” shoelaces on them.
As Walters got ready for his workout, Jayson Werth, 10 years Walters’ senior, approached. Walters claims he hadn’t spoken to Werth prior to that point, and as the veteran outfielder neared, Walters wondered what the two would talk about.
Werth looked down at Walters’ shoes, looked back up at the young shortstop, and spoke just four words.
“Nice shoelaces,” Walters recalls Werth saying. “Change ‘em.”
Walters didn’t hesitate. He went into his locker, grabbed some new shoelaces and wove them into his shoes.
Such is the life of a minor leaguer in big league camp. Walters hopes to make an impression on the Nationals’ coaches and the players he currently shares a clubhouse with, but at the same time, he doesn’t want to stand out.
He knows he won’t be with the big leaguers much longer before he’s sent back to the minor league side (Walters will likely start the season at Triple-A Syracuse, where he finished the 2012 campaign), but he’s just trying to take in as much as he can while he’s here, while being careful not to step outside his boundaries.
“I think overall, the biggest thing I’m trying to do is work hard, blend in and kind of be a wallflower and not stick out too much where guys are like, ‘I don’t want that kid around,’ ” Walters said. “I don’t need a Werth or (Adam) LaRoche or those older guys barking down my neck, so I just want to work hard, see what I can do and progress.”
Walters has gotten a good bit of playing time early in camp, but he hasn’t been too thrilled with the results. He’s struck out six times in 17 at-bats, but has also put up four hits, giving him a .235 average.
On Saturday, Walters was left standing in the on-deck circle when the final out of the game was recorded, and he spun back to the dugout, clearly frustrated he didn’t get another chance to hit.
Yesterday, however, Walters came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the score knotted 6-6 and the go-ahead run standing on third. Walters delivered, shooting a single through the right side to bring in the game-winning run.
“I want all the at-bats I can get, especially here in front of them,” Walters said. “It’s an opportunity and a privilege. So when the game ended the other day ... I kinda got frustrated, but it just kind of paid off (Sunday). ...
“It is a monkey off my back to feel like I’ve done something right in front of Davey (Johnson). I’ve been calling him ‘The Warden,’ because everywhere I turn when I feel like I’m taking the wrong step, he’s there with his hawk-eyes on. But no, I’m just glad we won that one.”
Johnson has been impressed with what he’s seen from Walters this spring, calling him a “young (Ian) Desmond,” and saying he likes Walters’ potential.
Despite his high expectations for himself, Walters appears to be doing just fine so far. Now he just needs to make sure to leave those neon shoelaces tucked away for the rest of the time he’s in big league camp.