For six decades, Jim Walker has been a staple of the Lyndhurst baseball community, volunteering countless hours of his time to coaching the young players of the town. On Saturday, April 16, Lyndhurst had the opportunity to give its thanks to a town institution and legendary figure within the community.
The Lyndhurst High School baseball program and the township’s Recreation Department honored Walker by dedicating the press box at the Recreation Center Baseball Field to him in a ceremony attended by more than 30 family members and several of his former players.
Shortly after the ceremony, the 84-year-old Walker threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Golden Bears’ game against Bloomfield.
Walker served as a volunteer coach with the town’s Little League for 10 years before coaching Babe Ruth baseball for 26 years, at one point serving as the league’s president. From there, he served as a volunteer assistant coach for the Lyndhurst High School team, first under Hall of Fame coach Butch Servideo and then under current coach Patrick Auteri before retiring after last season.
“It’s very emotional seeing all of this family here,” Walker said. “I didn’t expect all of these people to be here. After 60 years, what can you say?”
While Walker was talking about his relatives, some of whom he said drove more than five hours to be there, he could have just as easily been talking about his baseball family, which shares the same love for “Mr. Walker.”
“What Mr. Walker has done for Lyndhurst baseball and the community is just tremendous,” Auteri said, calling the honor ‘long overdue.’ “Everybody knows Mr. Walker. It’s not even Jim Walker, it’s Mr. Walker. That’s the effect he’s had on people at the high school level to people that are probably in their 70s now.
“There’s guys in their 70s now that he’s coached and he’s made a difference in their lives as a mentor and somebody that they can look up to.”
The 44-year-old Auteri counts himself as one of them. He first got to know Walker when his older brother played Babe Ruth baseball and Patrick became the team’s bat boy.
“He’s a mentor, he’s a voice of reason,” said Autieri. “When I took over, he was one of my biggest supporters. He always is one of my biggest supporters still to this day even though he doesn’t come around as much. He always calls to check in and see how we’re doing.”
Walker, who grew up in Jersey City and graduated from Dickinson High School, moved to Lyndhurst at age 24 with his wife. His passion for baseball led to him getting involved with the town’s Little League program.
“I wanted to get involved and that’s what I did. I got involved pretty deep,” Walker said with a chuckle. “Sixty years deep of getting involved.”
His involvement is one that has passed down through generations of Walkers. He got to coach his three sons Thomas, who died in an accident two decades ago, John and Brian. Jim Walker also got the opportunity to coach his grandsons Brian, Michael and Luke at Lyndhurst.
All three of his grandchildren also coached baseball at Lyndhurst, with Michael and Luke on this year’s staff.
Said Jim Walker, “they’re carrying on the tradition and it makes me feel good to keep the Walker name going for baseball in Lyndhurst.”
Walker still works at Costco Wholesale in Teterboro, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to make his way to work. He said the job sometimes leaves him too tired to remain a uniformed coach, but he still makes it a point to try to attend all of Lyndhurst’s home games.
“It never got to that point where I had enough. It got to the point where I get a little pooped from working on a full-time basis, but I’m here (when I can),” Walker said. “I’ve never been at a point where I didn’t want to do it. I still love baseball.
“I love baseball so I’m not going to stop coming to see it and I like to see the kids do well.”
That includes making an appearance at Auteri’s summer baseball camp. Even then, with kids not much older than the great-grandkids running around the diamond before Saturday’s ceremony, Walker’s presence was felt.
“We run our summer camp every year and last year, he came down and we’re dealing with kids 5, 6, 7 years old, and as soon as he walked onto the field, everyone was like ‘who’s that?’ and I’m like ‘that’s Mr. Walker.’” Auteri said. “He just has that aura and that presence and in this day and age it’s difficult to maintain, especially for 60 years.”
“It makes me feel good to be out there,” Walker said. “I just have some kind of rapport with the kids. I get along well with them all, young and old.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)