STILLWATER — Donnie Walton knew he had plenty to prove in his Oklahoma State baseball debut.
First, he was a freshman trying to break into a veteran lineup.
And then not just any freshman, but the rookie son of one the Cowboys' new coaches, Rob Walton, so that whole preferential treatment perception could have hung over his every step.
“Coming in as a coach's son, I was trying to gain that respect,” he said.
So Donnie defused any potential for a rocky introduction the only way he could. By showing he belonged.
“He's fit in beautifully,” said OSU head coach Josh Holliday, who knows something about being a coach's kid, having played for his father, Tom Holliday, with the Cowboys.
“Donnie's a veteran in the way that he carries himself. He may be a freshman in the media guide, but he's not a freshman in the clubhouse.”
Not just some coach's kid, at least in any negative light.
Yet on the positive front, he's played like a coach's kid, with the smarts and savvy and team-first approach of a player who's been paying attention while hanging around dad's office — the ballpark.
Rob, coaching at Oral Roberts for 14 years, the last nine as head coach, took the same approach with his kids that his father did with him. He didn't push himself on them, instead letting them come to him for coaching help.
“He was the kind of kid who asked all the time,” Rob said. “He's got a really good personality and a good heart, so he's really very coachable. I think being around our players and understanding that a sacrifice bunt is a good thing, hit-and-runs are good things, those are the things that create winning baseball.”
Not only is Donnie batting .291 with 26 runs batted in, he set an OSU single-season record with 17 sacrifice bunts.
“Donnie is one of the hardest workers we have,” said senior third baseman Robbie Rea. “He's grown up with being a coach's son, so I think he sees the work ethic that has to be put in with his dad being a successful coach.
“He's a real team-oriented guy, which you can see form all his sacrifice bunts and other things. And you need that on a team.”
The Cowboys have definitely needed young Walton.
With no experienced middle infielders on the roster back in the fall, OSU's up-the-middle defense was a major concern. But the pieces have fallen into place, with senior Randy McCurry's career revival providing a surprise answer at shortstop, and Walton's superb play at second solidifying one of the league's best defensive infields.
It's hard to picture the team without the young Walton, although it was never the plan for him to go to OSU.
Originally, the coach's son was headed to ORU. Yet when dad — a finalist for the Cowboys' head coaching job — made the unselfish move to join Holliday back at their alma mater as pitching coach, Donnie followed.
And fit right in.
“I was trying to prove that I can play, doing whatever I can for the team,” he said. “Whether that was me waiting for my turn, or where I'm at right now.
“I know the seniors, Victor Romero especially, they took me in and said, ‘You've proved yourself. You don't have to think anymore about being a coach's son. You're part of the family.'”
And he's proven himself over and over, revealing a toughness in bouncing back from two knee surgeries in the winter, as well as a broken finger.
“He's earned all his stripes on his own,” Holliday said. “He's very well received by his teammates, a very popular kid and amazingly likable. And he's been one of our more consistent, clutch players all year long. He's been fantastic.”
OSU vs. Miami
When: 1 p.m. Friday
Where: Jim Patterson Stadium, Louisville, Ky.