Without realizing he’s doing it, Brady Walker reaches for the silver ring hanging from the chain around his neck.
The Center Grove senior, a reliever for the Trojans’ baseball team, incorporates his right thumb and index finger to quickly rub the ring before releasing his next pitch.
This goes on before virtually every pitch Walker throws. Maybe every pitch. Walker doesn’t keep track because he’s focused on results, and this sequence with his late father’s wedding ring, over time, became part of his routine.
“I feel like I’m always messing with it,” Brady said. “Just to make sure it’s not tangled up, going to choke me or anything like that. I touch it a lot.”
During girls track and field meets, Center Grove sophomore pole vaulter Khloie Walker competes while wearing cleats that also offer a most heartfelt tribute to her father.
The initials BJW are penned across the velcro strap on her left cleat; the strap on the right says DAD in all capital letters.
Somewhere, Bobbie Walker is watching, smiling and proud.
The past 33 months have presented moments of longing, sadness, confusion, growth and a powerfully singular question — “Why?” — for the Walker siblings, whose father died of a heart attack while at work on Aug. 21, 2020.
Bobbie Joe Walker, who had no previous health issues and was a driving force in the athletic careers of both of his children, was 51.
Loved to coach his kids
A 1987 Perry Meridian graduate, Bobbie wed his wife Karen in October 2003. The couple began residing in Greenwood in 2005 and began the process of starting a family.
When Brady and Khloie were young, their parents got them involved in various sports to see which ones most appealed to them.
Brady competed in football, basketball and baseball. Khloie dabbled in soccer, basketball, softball, gymnastics and track and field.
Without hesitation, Bobbie signed on as a coach or assistant coach during their formative years. He wanted to help, whether he knew much about a particular sport or not.
Once, while assisting Khloie’s early basketball squads, he essentially invented the task of keeping the bench players organized and focused on the action on the court.
No Xs and Os involved. No fire-and-brimstone speeches.
Just doing what needed to be done.
“I probably miss most just having him there. Talking to him and him being at our sporting events,” Khloie said. “He was the one to get us to do sports, so I miss seeing him there and just having him home at dinner.”
Her way of honoring her dad is to try her hardest, regardless of the endeavor.
“I think my dad’s relationship was mainly the same with both of us,” Khloie said. “Obviously, he wasn’t as hard on me as he was Brady, but he was still pretty hard on me. He had the same expectations for both of us.”
Bobbie Walker’s unexpected passing came early in the 2020-21 school year. Brady had just started his sophomore year; Khloie was an eighth-grader.
And though their time with their father wasn’t nearly as extensive as they would have liked, the memories of special times are forever.
“I think what I miss most is talking with him, and joking around with him,” said Brady, who said his father was his best friend. “We used to watch a lot of baseball, or just sports in general.
“He obviously taught me a lot of valuable skills, like how to treat people. I feel like he led me on a good path on how to care for people like my mom and my sister. (Bobbie’s passing) kind of made me grow up faster, and I had to take on a lot of responsibility.”
A lot like Dad
As one would expect, Brady and Khloie Walker inherited certain characteristics from their father.
Both are athletic and quick-witted. Khloie has Bobbie’s sense of humor, and the siblings, individually and collectively, are equipped to take stubbornness to new levels.
Brady might have the edge there, but it’s a margin that’s razor-thin.
“Of course, I tried to get them to go to counseling, but they both refused,” Karen Walker said. “We went a couple of times (as a family), but they didn’t feel comfortable.
“I just keep telling them, ‘If you don’t want to talk to me, talk to your friends or talk to somebody.’”
Karen Walker can’t help but be impressed with the resilience and maturity her kids have demonstrated since having to experience such a life-altering event at such a young age.
“I’m kind of stubborn, too,” Karen said. “I only have one question, and nobody can answer it.”
Unfortunately, it’s a wound for which no balm has been invented.
As a result, Karen, Brady and Khloie approach and experience emotional milestones as one. Holidays, birthdays, athletic accomplishments and so on.
On May 12, Center Grove baseball celebrated its senior night with an 11-0 shutout of Bobbie’s alma mater, Perry Meridian; Brady was warming up in the bullpen when the game ended.
The eldest of Bobbie and Karen’s children goes through Center Grove’s commencement exercises on June 4. Later this summer, Karen and Khloie will help Brady pack his belongings and move to Ball State University so that the aspiring architecture major can begin his freshman year of college.
Khloie, in time, will take part in her own senior festivities, graduation and time as a college student.
Knowing Bobbie won’t be present hurts the surviving members of his family. A lot.
Sports help the healing process
In the meantime, Brady and Khloie are engrossed in their respective spring sports seasons.
Brady has made seven appearances on the mound this season for the Trojans’ baseball team, ranked No. 1 in Class 4A. He has a 1-0 record and a save, along with an earned-run average of 0.68. He recently had a relief appearance in which he allowed no hits or runs and struck out three Franklin batters in Center Grove’s 14-2 road victory.
The Trojans begin their postseason journey next Monday in Mooresville with a noon sectional semifinal against Bloomington South.
Khloie Walker, who finished 17th on her sport’s biggest stage last spring with a top pole vault height of 10 feet, 6 inches at the state meet, has peaked at 11-3 this spring and is working on making her way back to Indiana University next month.
That process continues today at the Franklin Regional.
What height she’ll clear remains as much of a mystery as what role her brother will play in the Trojans’ baseball fortunes in the weeks ahead. Athletics, like life, offer no guarantees.
Brady and Khloie Walker have learned both the hard way.