'I'm going to start crying here," Ace Walker says, over a crackly phone line from his home in Oklahoma.
Then the pitcher is quiet for a few seconds, enough for the memories of his five years with the Winnipeg Goldeyes to carousel through his mind. There are the records he broke as a Fish: most career games started, most wins, most complete games, strikeouts and innings pitched.
There was that time he threw a one-hitter against Fargo, in the middle of a miserable 2010 season. There were the visits to sick kids in hospitals, and the speeches in schools. Best of all, there were always the fans, the ones who flocked to Shaw Park last year to celebrate the team's American Association championship. They cheered every time Walker touched the trophy.
This, now, will be Walker's last picture of life in professional baseball. "That touched me pretty deep, that was pretty sweet," he says. "The recognition Goldeyes fans have always given me has really, really meant a lot to me."
These things, he says, are why it's hard to leave. On Monday, the Goldeyes announced that Walker, 29, and three of his friends and teammates -- pitchers Brian Beuning, Zach Baldwin and Chris Salamida -- had made their final play. The four will retire as Goldeyes, and as champions.
This isn't the first year Walker has thought about hanging up his ball-cap. It's been on his mind for a few. But he loved the game so much, he says, and liked the organization, and then in 2011 there was that heartbreaking loss to St. Paul in the championship final.
After that, Walker and many of his teammates decided to try again. "The way that game ended left a real bitter taste in my mouth," Walker recalls. "We were all talking during that offseason, and we knew we just had to go for another one and bring it home. So winning the championship has given that exclamation point to baseball, for me."
Besides, there is a life outside of baseball. Beuning, 32, is a Minnesota state trooper. Salamida, 28, will become a firefighter in his home state of New York. Twenty-nine-year-old Baldwin, who is second in Fish games played for a pitcher, will join his family's insurance business.
As for Walker, demand for his art -- he keeps a website at acewalkerart.com -- is booming. More restaurants are clamouring for his designs, and he has a lot of murals to paint. He's also getting married in August, to fiancée Paige Sullivan, and the spectre of more 36-hour bus rides from Winnipeg to El Paso just don't quite fit into the married life plan.
Well, he'll have a lot of stories to tell his kids someday, and baseball cards to show them -- "not a lot of teams can afford that," Walker says, "to be on a baseball card every year was a dream come true" - and newspaper clippings framed on the wall to show that in these years, in Winnipeg, he was something of a star.
This is just a retirement though, not a goodbye. Walker, Beuning and Baldwin, avid fishermen all, have already chatted about coming back to Winnipeg once a year or two to fish, and visit their host families, and cheer the Goldeyes from the stands.
After all, it's a pretty nice place to catch a game. "We've fallen in love with Canada," Walker says. "It's been such a huge, huge blessing."