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Northeast senior worked himself into top player

Machi Piatka-Walker hopes to continue his career at Holy Family. PHOTO: JOE KAPP

Machi Piatka-Walker wanted to play third base.

He also would have loved to pitch.

But those positions were full, so when Piatka-Walker was a sophomore on the Northeast High School baseball team, he was open to trying new things.

Anything that would get him on the field was something he was interested in.

“There was a senior third baseman and I didn’t play the first two games, I didn’t get in, then they asked me if I wanted to play in the outfield,” said Piatka-Walker, who lives by the high school. “They put me in the outfield, left field and center field. At first I was upset I wasn’t playing my positions because it’s a real adjustment, but I accepted it because at the end of the day, I was the new guy. I couldn’t just come in and take whatever position I wanted.”

He didn’t get mad.

He got better.

And it helped him get on the field, and also helped him become a better all-around baseball player.

“I think it helped me because it makes you become a better overall athlete and you get your game better because you’re learning new things,” Piatka-Walker said. “It puts you in uncomfortable situations and then it helps you. You adapt. You become better. And then you can do more things. I played the outfield now. I’m a third baseman and a pitcher, but I know if needed, I can play another position.”

This year, the Vikings had a completely different look.

Former coach Tom Juhas returned to the team, and one of the first things he did was turn Piatka-Walker into his leadoff hitter.

He also asked him to pitch a little more than he did in previous seasons, including giving him the ball at the start of some games.

Piatka-Walker always considered himself a relief pitcher, but he found success becoming a starting pitcher.

“Coach Juhas always believed in me, he helped us out other times and he always showed he believed in me and this year when he became our coach, he told me I was going to hit at the top of the lineup and be a leader,” Piatka-Walker said. “I was never that kind of guy. I was always a guy who would come in, in relief. But he would say to me, ‘Do you want to start? I think you can do this. I think you’d be great.’ And it worked, it helped me a lot.

“As a leader, I was never that kind of guy. I’m not really outspoken. I’m more of a guy who is always focused and thinking about what I have to do. But he told me I could help people. He told me that if I talked, I could become a leader, so I tried. I’m always there to help people. I love showing people what to do if they need help. If that’s being a leader, I’m happy to be a leader. I can do that.

“Coach Juhas and Coach (Jack) Kapp. They both believed in me first. Before this year. They always saw my potential and helped me grow as a player and a leader.”

His leadership skills definitely paid off.

Machi Piatka-Walker was willing to do anything he could to help Northeast. PHOTO: JOE KAPP

Northeast didn’t have a lot to work with at the start of the season, and wins were hard to come by. But they never stopped working and by the end of the season, the Vikings had put together a nice little season.

They finished 9-7 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Public League playoffs where they fell to Fels in a wild 17-9 game.

Oddly enough, it was another wild game, an early-season 13-11 loss to Frankford that let Piatka-Walker know that this year could be a good one for the Vikings.

“We played Frankford and we were behind by a lot,” Piatka-Walker said. “They were a great team, they had some great hitters. But we kept fighting and we came back against them. They still won, but when I saw that we could compete with them, they’re always one of the best teams, it showed me that we could be good.”

Making a little run in the playoffs and setting the Vikings up for the future was a great way to end his senior season. He still has some unfinished business for high school baseball. He’s trying out for the Carpenter Cup, where he would represent the Public League.

After that, he’s headed for Holy Family. 

“I got a full ride to Holy Family for academics, and I’m excited because it’s a great school,” said Piatka-Walker, who plans on majoring in sports management or business, and hopes to one day work in sports. “I’m going to reach out to the baseball coach, I know they have a new program and I’d love to be part of it.

“Third base is what I’d love to play, but I know I could play anywhere. I’m the new guy. I’d be blessed to be on the team. I’m willing to do whatever they need. I just want to play. I’m going to school to learn and if I can play, that would be even better.”

He’ll go there with plenty of support from his former coaches. And even more support from his biggest fan.

“Definitely my mom is a huge part of everything I do,” Piatka-Walker said. “Throughout the years, especially sophomore year when I wasn’t playing, she knew I had potential. I played T-ball, travel and so on. She believed that I would do well no matter where they had me. She always told me to do better next time, you can’t go back to the past, you can just learn from what you did wrong. 

“She’s a reason for everything I did. She’s helped me so many ways. I know she’s a big reason for everything. I’m lucky, I definitely have people who have helped me.”

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