SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Two years ago, it began as a cherry on top of the Fan Appreciation Night for the Missoula Osprey. Now, wherever he is, it's became an annual occurrence for Derrick Walker to sing the national anthem.
On Tuesday night, as the South Bend Silver Hawks looked to close out their second-round series with the Dayton Dragons, the 22-year-old center fielder sang before the game for the third consecutive season.
Walker's one-minute, 18-second version of the anthem clearly excited his teammates, who bombarded Walker with high-fives and hugs at the song's conclusion.
"I always sing around the clubhouse, joking around, doing impressions of guys on the radio," said Walker, whose eclectic music interests include country and R&B. "So a couple guys said you should sing the anthem."
It was manager Mark Haley's idea, in fact -- one he proposed for a South Bend homestand late in the season. The team had national anthems booked through the first round of the playoffs, but told Walker that if the team made the semifinals, he could sing. While it might not have been motivation for the team's recent success, it didn't hurt either.
Growing up in Detroit, it comes as no surprise that Walker has a voice fit for Motown. It was nurtured through his mother, who studied voice while in college and instilled a love for music in her son.
"In middle school, there was a talent show and it was kind of a joke, but I started singing and everybody liked it, so I just kept doing it," Walker said. "I had voice training in high school."
Given his experience, Walker was not nervous about his time behind the microphone before the game. But he did deem it to be the most important game he has ever sung before.
"I'd be more nervous to drop a fly ball than mess up the anthem at this time of year," Walker said before the game. "I could completely bomb the anthem, and it won't matter if I go 3-for-4."
Walker entered the night as the Silver Hawks' hottest hitter in the Midwest League playoffs, batting .400 with three doubles in three postseason games. In the regular season, the 2006 Draft pick hit .246 with nine homers and 48 RBIs in 113 games in his first full-season league.
Bryan Smith is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.