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Shortstop Taylor Walls excited for opportunity with Rays

Florida State product will get the chance to show off his top-notch defensive prowess.
Tampa Bay Rays' Taylor Walls watches his flyball in his first major-league at-bat during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin on Saturday night.
Tampa Bay Rays' Taylor Walls watches his flyball in his first major-league at-bat during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin on Saturday night. [ MIKE CARLSON | Associated Press ]
Published May 22, 2021
Updated May 23, 2021

DUNEDIN — Taylor Walls was grabbing something to eat and talking to pitcher Dietrich Enns before batting practice with the Durham Bulls on Friday when he heard that the Rays had traded shortstop Willy Adames to the Brewers.

A couple of other teammates, Tyler Zombro and Phoenix Sanders, asked the obvious question.

“They’re like, ‘Bro, you think it’s you?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Walls relayed Saturday, when he did indeed join the Rays as Adames’ replacement. “And then about a minute or two later, I hear that they’re calling a meeting out towards the pitcher’s mound. At that point, I started kind of shaking a little bit. I’m like, ‘Man, I hope it’s me.’ I hope it’s anyone but at that point, I was, like, ‘Just please be me.’ ”

Triple-A manager Brady Williams, who likes to make events out of sharing such news, gathered the troops.

“Brady started giving his little speech like he does, and, man, it hit home,” Walls said. “As soon as I can start hearing the conversation, my name starting to come out, I just remember putting my hand over my face, shedding a couple of tears and all I could feel was just every teammate, whooping and hollering and screaming and just jumping on me.”

Wander Franco was there, and Vidal Brujan, too. Either could have instead gotten the callup. But Walls said they were among those sharing in his joy, just as he would have been for them, and will be when they do get their chance.

“It could have been any of us,” Walls said. “But at the same time, it’s just the nature of it. Every guy wants to be that guy that gets the chance. And every guy there is going to get a chance. So I was just blessed that at that time it was me.

“We have such a good group there. Everybody supported each other. I love Wander, Brujan, like they’re my brothers. They’d do the same with me. ... We’re not cutthroat like that. It’s more of a brotherhood. Everybody’s going to get their shot.”

After Walls got the news, he quickly shared it with is family. His parents had just arrived earlier Friday on a pre-planned visit, driving up from their Cordele, Ga., home to see Taylor; his wife, Hallie; and their month-old daughter, Sutton Grace.

“I called my dad,” Walls said. “He’s been with me through everything. ... I knew that all my other family will be there right with him. And as soon as he answered the phone I couldn’t even get the words out of my mouth because I was trying to hold back the tears and they were doing the same thing, whooping and hollering. It was awesome. I had all four of them on the phone right there.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash said Walls will be “playing a lot of shortstop for us” and getting ample opportunity to get his switch-hitting offense going.

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And right from the start, as Walls had an impressive debut Saturday with two doubles, several nice fielding plays (and one error), and a heads-up play on the bases leading to a run in the 3-1 win, getting cheers from a group of family and friends in the stands. “We were all pumped for Taylor,” Cash said.

Walls, 24, couldn’t be more appreciative of the opportunity.

“They believe in me,” he said. “I could tell just how they presented this information to me and the conversations we were having, the sincerity in their voice. So that means a lot to me and it gives me the confidence to go out there and relax, hopefully not put too much stress on myself and just perform.”

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