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What has Diamondbacks’ Taijuan Walker so happy? Gotta be the shoes

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Taijuan Walker throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Sunday, April 8, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

PHOENIX — Last week, Taijuan Walker entered the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse ahead of Arizona’s series finale against the Dodgers carrying two black shoe boxes.

Upon reaching his locker, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound right-hander carefully set the packages down atop one another, revealing identical Jumpman logos. Walker then squatted in his chair, and pushed off the ground using a pair of purple and white Air Jordan Future Glow Low shoes to swivel back around, then tend to the rest of his belongings.

Just a few weeks before Spring Training opened across Major League Baseball, Walker had received a call from his agent, who sent him a contract offer from Jordan Brand. The feeling was powerful for Walker.

“I printed it out,” Walker said. “Just seeing the Jumpman logo on a contract was pretty cool.”

On March 21, Air Jordan officially announced it had signed Walker, along with two other major leaguers — St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina and New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks — to endorsement deals.

Their additions expanded Jordan’s number of ambassadors in the MLB to 11 current players, including Walker. The group also features David Price and Mookie Betts (Boston Red Sox); Manny Machado (Baltimore Orioles); Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals); Dexter Fowler (Chicago Cubs); Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays); C.C. Sabathia, Dellin Betances and Hicks (New York Yankees); and Molina (St. Louis Cardinals).

Walker, 25, is represented by Excel Sports Group, which also has two other major league clients signed with Jordan in Betances and Fowler. No other sports agency boasts as many major leaguers currently signed with Jordan.

“Huge Jordan fan,” Walker said. “The fact that I can go out there and wear Jordan cleats on the field, representing the brand of Jordan, is pretty awesome.”

Jordan Brand is one of the most popular shoe labels in the United States. In 2017, the Nike-owned entity accounted for a 65 percent share of the retro basketball shoe national market and generated $3.1 billion in revenue, per Forbes.

Walker’s representatives and Jordan Brand had been in discussion over a contract for some time. It delighted Walker, a former high school basketball player.

Before being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the first round of the 2010 MLB draft, Walker played basketball at Yucaipa High School in California. He averaged 15.5 points and 11.3 rebounds across three varsity seasons.

Back when I could fly a little 😉 lol #hops #backintheday #bunnies #windmill

A post shared by Taijuan Walker (@tskywalk44) on

Growing up, Walker’s favorite player was former Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, “but I obviously love M.J. (former Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan),” he said. “I grew up watching Kobe. Kind of my era.”

A self-described sneakerhead, Walker has purchased so many shoes since penning a major-league deal that he doesn’t even remember his first pair of Jordan shoes.

“When I signed, I kind of went on a little shoe spree where I just started buying a bunch of shoes, a bunch of Jordans and retros,” Walker said. “So I don’t even know which ones I bought first.”

Walker estimates he has about 200 different pairs of shoes, including Nike Free Runners and other shoes. He isn’t the only player in the big leagues with a passion for basketball kicks, though.

“I feel like you’ve got a couple guys on each team that just love their sneakers and have a bunch of shoes,” Walker said. “Some guys who have really good collections. I know (former pitcher) Jeremy Guthrie, he has a sick collection of shoes.

“I know C.C. (Sabathia) has stupid amount of shoes because he’s been with them the longest. I’m sure he has a pretty sick collection.”

For Walker, signing with Jordan is a dream come true. He considers it an honor to be a part of such a select group of athletes.

“I had been trying to get them for awhile,” Walker said. “It’s a real exclusive team. Just to be a part of it — I think I’m one of 10 guys, 11 guys in the league. So it’s definitely special and something that I had been wanting to get for a long time.”  

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