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West

Around the Diamond

After traumatic injury, success on the mound

Zach Walker of Franklin Legion Post 75 warmed up during a game against Westwood Legion last week. His record this summer  is a perfect 4-0, and his ERA is 1.70.

Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe

Zach Walker of Franklin Legion Post 75 warmed up during a game against Westwood Legion last week. His record this summer is a perfect 4-0, and his ERA is 1.70.

Zach Walker rattled off each injury, steadily, defiantly, like a survivor.

“Contusion on both frontal lobes of the brain,” he started.

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“Traumatic brain injury — bleeding of the brain. Fractured pelvis. Broken rib. Contusion of the lung. Ruptured bladder. Shattered left wrist.”

Those injuries were the result of a snowboarding accident during the winter of his sophomore year at Medway High. Now, two years later, having overcome a medically induced coma and a lengthy recovery, the 18-year-old Walker has developed into one of the most dominant right-handed pitchers in the state.

Walker threw no-hitters in back-to-back starts for Medway this spring, part of a sparkling stretch that included six shutouts in a row. The 6-foot, 180-pound senior hurler was the Tri-Valley League’s MVP and was named a Globe All-Scholastic.

This summer, he has continued his string of outstanding starts as the ace for Franklin Legion Post 75 (10-3). He is a perfect 4-0 with an ERA of 1.70, and he’s averaging a strikeout per inning.

“When he gets the ball every five days or so,” said Post 75 coach Mark D’Angelo , “it’s comfortable. You like your chances when he has the ball.”

But Walker’s climb to on-the-mound success was a long one.

On the day of his accident at Waterville Valley in New Hampshire, Walker over-shot a landing after taking off from one of the resort’s man-made jumps. He was airborne with too much speed and was knocked unconscious as soon as he hit the ground.

Airlifted from that spot in the White Mountains to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Walker spent a day in a coma and was in the hospital’s intensive care unit for a week.

“I was extremely worried,” Walker said. “I wanted to graduate with my class. I didn’t want to be the kid you see with a parent around him 24-7, or the kid who can’t go to a real college, who can’t live a normal life, who can’t stand up. I didn’t want that. I was still young and still wanted to live my prime years of life.”

He was released to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he had to learn to walk again. During his 10 days there, Walker also performed mental exercises, working his brain to the point of exhaustion.

Once he returned home, he experienced persistent headaches, and he very slowly made his way back to school, keeping up with the help of tutors.

Dealing with mood swings became part of Walker’s recovery process as well. His mother, Patty , remembered there being dark days for her son in the aftermath of his accident.

“Zachary was always very fun-loving, laughing, saw the best in everything kind of person,” she said. “When that disappeared for a little while, it was disconcerting for us, as it was for him, I’m sure. There was not a lot of laughter or light in his life for a while there. But we’ve certainly, certainly seen that come back.”

One of the most difficult parts of Walker’s new reality was dealing with the heartbreak of being told he could no longer play contact sports. No more snowboarding. No more basketball. No more soccer, his first love.

“Sports were my life,” said Walker. “To suddenly give them up was devastating. Devastating.”

Limited to playing golf and baseball, Walker poured as much of his energy as possible into pitching. He practiced with coach Matt Anderson at Anderson Baseball Academy in Holliston, and he worked out with baseball on his mind, learning to love the game like he never had before.

“It keeps me busy every day, working hard, and shooting for something,” Walker said. “I really don’t know what I’d be doing without baseball. It’s the reason I’m striving to get better. It’s kept me in good shape. It’s kept me on a pretty good line in life and kept me outgoing. Even with the traumatic injury, I was still able to pitch, so that made me a little bit happier and kept me going.”

There are still times when Walker notices the effects of his accident. He says he struggles with language. His memory isn’t what it was, he thinks.

Walker’s ability to keep his composure on the mound abandoned him at times during his junior season, his first after his accident, but now it’s one of the biggest reasons for his success.

During his starts, he has a singular focus that almost approaches meditation.

“He’s one of the goofiest kids when he’s not pitching, but when he’s on the hill, he’s one of the most focused kids I’ve seen,” said Post 75 center fielder Steven Gilbert . “He doesn’t talk to anyone, he’ll just sit in the corner by himself. He’s extremely focused when he’s on the bump.”

So concentrated is he on each individual batter, that even during his two no-hitters for Medway, he had no idea that he was on the verge of something special.

He has kept the same approach this summer, and he plans to do the same when he attends Keene State University next year. He hasn’t been guaranteed a spot on the Keene State baseball roster, but he’ll work out with the team in the fall, and hope for the best.

In the last two years, he has learned that a positive attitude can lead to things he never thought possible.

“Most people that hear my story wouldn’t think I’d be able to play baseball again,” Walker said. “They’re surprised I’m walking. They say, ‘You almost died.’ But here I am, going to college, hopefully to play baseball. My mindset is way different now than it was before. Maybe I’m a little cockier now, I don’t know. I strive to do things that I know are possible because of what I’ve been through.”

Niro leaves after
12 years at Franklin

Dave Niro has stepped down as the baseball coach at Franklin High, according to athletic director Brad Sidwell .

Niro coached at Franklin for 12 years, including the last nine as head coach, during which he put together a record of 125-65 and four Hockomock League titles. He also coached 10 seasons at Shrewsbury High.

“I’m just kind of mentally exhausted,” Niro, a Milford resident, said a few days after Franklin’s 10-1 loss in the first round of the Division 1 South tournament to Barnstable.

“Dave has been outstanding to work with,” Sidwell wrote in a statement. “His loyalty and support of the entire athletic program is appreciated. The administration, coaches, and student athletes of Franklin will miss him.”

Niro plans to continue coaching at RBI Baseball Academy in Foxborough.

Mason gets top job

Franklin native Pat Mason was named head coach at Virginia Tech last month. For the last three seasons, Mason served as an assistant under Hokie coach Pete Hughes , who is now the head coach at Oklahoma University.

Phil Perry can be reached at Paperry27@gmail.com.
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