It's a cold winter's day about 50 years ago. The phone rings a few times at Jim Walton's farm house near Shattuck.
Walton had recently finished his second season as a minor league manager for the Houston Colt .45s' beginning-level team, the Moultrie (Ga.) Colt .22s.
The club's farm director, Tal Smith, was calling. There was an opening for a scouting position in Oklahoma. Walton took it.
Roll life forward a half-century.
It's early spring, but 39 degrees and misting at L. Dale Mitchell Park on the University of Oklahoma campus. The grounds crew is chalking the batter's box as the Sooners get ready to take on Texas Christian University. Walton, 77, a Major League Scouting Bureau area scout for Oklahoma and Texas, sets his radar gun case down.
Walton begins visiting with others in a covey of pro baseball scouts.
The vast majority of scouts know him.
Coaches, players and even fans know Walton.
They may not know his name, but they recognize the lanky scout with the white hair flowing from under his cowboy hat. Walton's that guy who is always wearing boots and jeans and closely resembles a cattle buyer.
Big league coach
They may not know that 40 years ago, he began a three-year major league stint as an infield coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. Or that he's been with the MLB Scouting Bureau since 1976 and that a few years back he was among four scouts recognized with Scout of the Year awards at the baseball winter meetings.
But those such as longtime scout Steve Taylor of the Miami Marlins said most everyone knows that Walton has an extremely good idea what he's looking for.
“When you pull up to a ballpark and you see his big old Cadillac, you know you're at the right park,” said Taylor, of Shawnee. “The real guys have that nose and know where the talent is. They know where to go.”
When his work is done, Walton will make his way back to the long silver Cadillac. Visible through the rear window is the clothes rack across the back seat.
In Oklahoma, the land of four seasons of weather in one week, Walton says he doesn't put the “big coat” away until about July.
“You know in Oklahoma, it can be 70 degrees when the game starts and all of a sudden it's 42,” he said. “You better be ready.”
And he is ready, regardless.
Walton has scouted in stadiums with towering seating levels and he's gone to rickety old ballparks with only chicken wire separating fans from the field.
He's ready for rainouts, games moved from one location to another, changes in the pitching rotation or whatever else baseball throws at him.
“It's not an 8-to-5-time-frame job,” he said. “It's whatever it takes.”
Although his mail has gone to P.O. Box 787 in Shattuck for many years, Walton can much more easily be found going down the road in that Cadillac. Actually, he's got five Cadillacs and four have at least 300,000 miles on them, he said. The oldest is the 1978 Eldorado.
40,000 miles a year