AMARILLO, Texas -- Ace Walker will get the first opening day start in his five-year career with the Winnipeg Goldeyes tonight.
The Goldeyes will send the veteran right-hander to the mound against the Amarillo Sox at the Amarillo National Bank Sox Stadium in Winnipeg's first trip to this West Texas city.
Walker will become the first starter in Goldeyes' history to play five seasons when he tosses out his first pitch.
Past opening-day starters in Walker's time with the Goldeyes are Bear Bay (2008), Daniel Haigwood (2009), Matt Kniginyzky (2010) and Isaac Hess (2011).
"It means a lot to me," Walker said. "It's got some prestige. You grow up watching the big leagues, the opening-day starter is Roy Halladay or Greg Maddux or John Smoltz or someone like that. It's a great honour, that's the way I look at it."
Walker says the timing is perfect.
"I think maybe four or five years ago I might not have been able to handle it, but I hope this year that I can," he said.
"I'm going to try to look at it that I'm just pitching on a day that Rick (manager Forney) is telling me to pitch so I don't get too hyped up about it."
Walker will become the Goldeyes' leader in career strikeouts if he fans 15 batters this season. The current holder of that record is Forney, who recorded 313 from 1997-2000.
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Just before Thursday's training session started, Goldeyes players and other onlookers saw staff at Sox Stadium corner a 30-inch angry, hissing bull snake (non-venomous) near a storage shed just outside the Goldeyes' locker-room. A local Animal Control officer hooked it with pole and took it away in a large pail.
It was no big deal for the Sox, as a staffer said the team had a snake in their dressing room last season.
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Goldeyes' right-hander Matt Rusch was placed on the inactive list on Wednesday but it was simply a money-saving move related to the salary cap.
"It's just administrative, Matt's still pitching for us, he's pitching the third game of the season," Forney said.
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When the team returns at the end of this road swing, it faces a 27-hour bus ride from El Paso to Winnipeg.
"I don't know if there's anything good about being on the road that long, we'll see in about two weeks (after the home opener), but everyone is definitely getting to know each other," Forney said. "I'm just glad we're starting out on the road where weather shouldn't be a concern."