TULSA — Rob and Donnie Walton walk back into Oral Roberts University’s J.L. Johnson Stadium Tuesday night.
As the visitors.
This isn’t how it always mapped out for the Oklahoma State father-son tandem. They were always going to be together at ORU, where Rob spent 14 seasons as an assistant and head coach and where Donnie literally grew up.
“It will feel weird, being in the other dugout for sure,” said Rob, who left ORU on good accord a year ago to return to OSU — his alma mater — and to assist Josh Holliday in his makeover project as the Cowboys’ pitching coach.
Rob doesn’t expect it to be all that pleasant, either, with his former assistants Ryan Folmer and Ryan Neill on the other side. Folmer, a former Cowboy himself, is now the head coach.
“It’s tough. Without question, it’s tough,” Rob said. “Ryan Folmer and Ryan Neill were with me for all nine years. They’re good guys. Jose Trevino, who’s in that lineup, is one of the best kids I’ve ever coached; one of the most talented kids I’ve ever coached.
“Yeah, those are good human beings. Those are tough games for me. It’s one of those games, no matter who wins or loses, the food’s not going to taste good after the game, either way.”
Rob also understands all that’s good about the game.
“It’s important to play, because it’s good for each institution to play,” he said. “And then it’s good baseball.
“So you have to take out your own personal feelings about playing and go.”
Donnie, OSU’s sophomore shortstop and two-hole hitter, approaches it a bit differently as an on-field competitor.
Yeah, he admires and respects those coaches and the players he still knows. But there’s something about showing everyone how he’s turned out, too.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “Those coaches over there, they’ve been brothers to me. I can’t wait, because that’s where I grew up, going to the field every day. And to see those teammates … it’s going to be fun.”
But then, that’s all Donnie ever knew, going to the ballpark with his dad as a boy and later a standout at Tulsa Kelley High School.
“I don’t think it gets any better from my childhood,” Donnie said. “Growing up, I think I had every little kid’s dream — go out there and hang out with the guys, the older guys, go to the field every day. And not just for a few hours, the entire day.
“That’s all I wanted to do, go to the ballpark with Pops and hang out with the team.”
Donnie was going to play for Pops at ORU, too, before Rob left for OSU after compiling a 367-167 (.687) record as a five-time Summit League Coach of the Year with the Golden Eagles.
And Donnie followed.
It’s been a good transition for the Waltons.
The Cowboys are 29-11 overall and in first place in the Big 12, with Rob’s pitching staff producing and growing better all the time.
Donnie is batting .301 with 25 runs batted in and playing solidly at shortstop, after holding down second base as a freshman a year ago.
But ORU was good — very good — for the Waltons, too.
“I was there 14 years,” Rob said. “Tulsa’s a great town. Awesome place to live. The university and our athletic director, Mike Carter, they were all great to me and my family. So the experience at ORU was life-changing.”
The Cowboys and Golden Eagles played a year ago in Tulsa, but at ONEOK Field, the downtown home of the Tulsa Drillers.
This will be different.
“We have great friendships over there,” Donnie said. “I’m going to be so happy seeing those guys. I’ve talked to them already. We can’t wait to see each other and play against each other
“It’s going to be cool.”