Homecoming may be this upcoming weekend for most Cornell alums, but for Bill Walkenbach ’98, homecoming was Oct. 1. On that day, varsity baseball head coach Tom Ford announced that the three-time team MVP would be joining his staff.
“It’s a thrill for me to have a player come back as a coach,” Ford commented. “I’ve always thought a lot about Bill as a baseball person and as a quality guy. He always had a great approach to the game and never just relied on talent. He’s also a fierce competitor and he brings that fire into his coaching.”
Walkenbach made a name for himself as a two-time All-Ivy League shortstop and team co-captain in the late 90s. The three team MVP awards was an unprecedented accomplishment at Cornell, and he also tied the career home run record with 21. Ford believes Walkenbach’s career on the field sends an effective message to his current players.
“They can look in the record books and see maybe this guy did something at one point,” he said.
Prior to his Ithaca return, Walkenbach spent two seasons as an assistant at Emory while receiving a master’s degree in sports administration at Georgia State. Emory reached the Division III World Series this past spring and was ranked fifth in the nation. Eagles head coach Mike Twardoski was sorry to see him go, but praised Walkenbach’s demeanor and versatility.
“I really can’t say enough about how good coach Walk was in both the office and on the field,” Twardoski said. “He left Emory on great terms. When you have quality coaches on your staff, you know they’re going to leave sometime. He’ll always get a good reference from me.”
Walkenbach credited Twardoski for teaching him new game strategy and hitting techniques that he hopes to bring to the Red, but Walkenbach is relishing the chance to coach alongside Ford.
“First and foremost, when you play for coach Ford you learn how to be a good person and how to contribute to the team in a positive manner,” Walkenbach said. “I’d been trying for two years to get back to campus to work with him, and I’m glad we could work out the details to make it happen.”
Ford sees many positives in his new assistant, including someone closer to his players’ ages, an excellent infield defensive instructor, and an authority on aggressive base running. Ford also praises Walkenbach, a graduate of the School of Hotel Administration, as a recruiter who can “make players feel at home.”
“Coach Walkenbach understands what kind of person Cornell is looking for in a student and a baseball player,” commented Jim Jackson ’03, a former infielder.
Jon Finch, a senior outfielder, believes Walkenbach may be the missing piece of the puzzle for a team that finished 16-20 last season and tied for third place with Columbia in the Lou Gehrig Division. Walkenbach’s focus right now is helping the Red to Ivy League dominance, but he admits aspirations for a head coaching job down the road.
“He’ll make a great head coach somewhere,” attested Twardoski.
Archived article by Dan Schiff