When Mike Walsh was a star athlete at Lyons Township High School, swimming arguably was his best sport.
Baseball, however, always remained his favorite.
“Swimming gave me a lot of amazing memories, especially at LT, taking two state [team] championships,” Walsh said.
“I’d been swimming since I was really, really little but when it came down to it, I loved baseball and it’s something I couldn’t have given up. Going to [Major League Baseball] games growing up, it’s something I knew that I wanted more than anything.”
The 2019 LTHS graduate from LaGrange and Yale University pitching standout achieved a giant step toward his ultimate baseball goal on July 19.
Walsh was drafted in the ninth round of the MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 260th overall pick.
A 6-foot-2, 200-pound right-hander, Walsh planned to sign his contract July 25 and fly to the Pirates’ training complex the next day.
“I was ecstatic. I immediately thought about all of the hard work I put in over the years and all the sacrifices, and my family and friends, all of the sacrifices they made, to make me a success and that one of my lifelong dreams came true,” Walsh said. “I’ve been wanting to play professional baseball for as long as I remember.”
Walsh’s agent and a Northeast region scout told Walsh that he probably would be drafted, so he was prepared when he received the call.
“I had a feeling it was going to happen. It was a question of when,” Walsh said.
“Draft day is a very hectic experience from the morning until the actual pick occurs. I’m very relieved that I was given an opportunity and extremely thankful to the Pirates’ organization. I was thrilled. I can’t wait to play for them.”
Walsh was the first Ivy League player drafted and just the 11th Yale player ever selected in the first 10 rounds. Walsh was the Bulldogs’ No. 1 starter this spring (4-2, 5.68 ERA in 11 starts), ranking second in the league with 80 overall strikeouts in 65 innings pitched and limiting opponents to a .237 batting average. He received honorable mention All-Ivy honors.
Walsh especially intrigued scouts after this summer’s eight appearances for Wareham in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Mostly working relief, Walsh had a 2.38 ERA with 23 strikeouts, five walks and 12 hits allowed over 11.1 innings with two saves.
“[Yale’s coaches] were extremely helpful to make some mechanical tweaks. Definitely those innings were super helpful,” Walsh said. “Starting and relieving are two different things, but at the end of the day pitching is pitching.”
As an LTHS swimmer, Walsh had eight first-team all-state, top-six finishes individually or with relays his final three seasons. The Lions won state in 2016 and 2017 and were third in 2018.
In baseball, Walsh was a three-year varsity pitcher and the 2019 West Suburban Conference Silver Division Pitcher of the Year, going 6-1 with a 1.25 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 39.9 innings.
Growing up, Walsh remembered watching the Pirates play at a friend’s house and having double-digit strikeouts at the hands of Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta.
“What I remember, too, was how electric [the Pirates’ home] PNC Park is. It’s one of the most beautiful stadiums and I always dreamed of playing there one day,” Walsh said.
“I had the greatest teammates in the world [at Yale]. I’m extremely grateful for what they did for me. But with that being said, it’s been a dream of mine to chase my pro baseball aspirations. Given that opportunity, and the right opportunity for me and my family, I’m looking to accept it.”