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Rossi: What a joke it would be if Pirates let Walker go

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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker drives in a run with a single during the first inning against the Giants Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker watches his walk-off homer during the 10th inning against the Cubs Monday, March 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
In this file photo, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker catches as a Pine-Richland freshman on April 26, 2001, in Pine.
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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker watches his walk-off homer during the 10th inning against the Cubs Monday, March 31, 2014, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
In this file photo, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker catches as a Pine-Richland freshman on April 26, 2001, in Pine.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pine-Richland's Neil Walker smiles at the podium during a press conference June 7, 2004, at the high school in Pine after being drafted by the Pirates.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates catcher Neil Walker leaves McKechnie Field after making his spring training debut against Manatee Community College Bradenton, Fla.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Pirates' Neil Walker singles during the eighth inning against St. Louis for his first Major League hit Sept. 6, 2009, at PNC Park.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Neil Walker played only 21 games at second base at Triple-A Indianapolis before being called up to the Pirates.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates second baseman Neil Walker signs an photo collage for Hannah Lash, 14, of New Castle Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015, at the Giant Eagle in Seven Fields.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pine-Richland freshmen Dale Mollenhauer (left) and Neil Walker
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Neil Walker was a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Male Co-Athlete of the Year in 2004.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
The Pirates' Neil Walker hangs out by the batting cages at Pirate City on Thursday Feb. 14, 2008, in Bradenton, Fla.
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Christopher Horner
Altoona Curve third baseman Neil Walker wipes his bat while batting in a steady rainfall in April 2007 in Altoona.
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Christopher Horner
Boston's Sean Casey laughs with the Pirates' Neil Walker before a spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla.

Spend any amount of time around the Pirates, and you’ll hear somebody ask a particular question: Did you know Neil Walker is from Pittsburgh?

The question is the joke.

Everybody knows Walker is from Pittsburgh.

That is why nobody from Pittsburgh can comprehend why the Pirates seem set on making Pittsburgh’s Pirate walk the plank.

Since Jung Ho Kang was acquired in December, the perception has been Walker was playing on borrowed time. Perception proves to be reality in an article by Tribune-Review beat reporter Rob Biertempfel on Sunday.

Walker speaks of likely playing for another team as though it is inevitable. General manager Neal Huntington acknowledges that inevitability when he talks of an anticipated harsh backlash.

Not all marriages go the distance. But there is no good reason life shouldn’t go happily ever after for the Pittsburgh Kid and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Walker is good, among the National League’s top offensive second basemen. He’s 30, and until this season his back was creaky and of concern to the Pirates.

OK then.

Let’s go with four years, $46 million.

The Pirates should live comfortably with that deal. They’ve played before 7 million fans at home the past three seasons. They could structure the contract to not breach the ‘Cutch Cap, thus maintaining bargaining leverage by still not having paid a homegrown player more in any one season than Andrew McCutchen.

Walker should find the term and money agreeable, too. He would rate among the 10 highest-paid players at his position. That’s what he is right now.

If doing the deal means adding another $4 million to its total, just do it.

Huntington’s model won’t break.

Neither will Bob Nutting’s bank account.

But Nutting should know that not keeping Walker would break the hearts of the countless people whom he has most given his attention. Everybody ever helped by Pirates Charities or any of the other outreach programs that Nutting has admirably made his calling since 2007.

Public relations can matter to his baseball business this one time.

The Pirates’ pitch to the region — from Pittsburgh to Nutting’s hometown of Wheeling, W.Va., and beyond — is “pride and passion.” Walker bleeds the slogan. He carries the franchise flag twice as often as any Pirate. He’s always where the franchise wants him for those photo opportunities.

Walker might be the Pirates’ best second baseman since Bill Mazeroski. He certainly is their heir apparent to Mazeroski as the Pirates’ goodwill ambassador. He should be, anyway.

That line ends with him.

What Nutting cannot afford is the severing of that line. Mazeroski is 79.

Whatever the cost to keep Walker in a Pirates uniform as a player will pay for itself three times over in the days when he wears it only ceremoniously.

Some business can be about bottom lines. Newspapers. Resorts.

Even baseball is a bottom-line business, but only on the field.

In the stands, within the community, a franchise cannot afford the cost of alienating its truest believers.

They’re almost all back aboard the Pirates’ ship. PNC Park has been filled to 80 percent capacity for the first time since its first season. That’s a sign of belief on the part of Pirates fans. It isn’t an indication of blind faith.

If you’re from Pittsburgh, you’ve stuck by the Pirates when games were lost, stars were let go and legends were laid to rest.

You’ve never known the Pirates to jettison a Pittsburgh kid.

That would be the joke.

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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