Walker Buehler Talks Little League Donations, Dodgers, More in B/R Exclusive

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Walker Buehler celebrates the end of the top of the second inning against the Atlanta Braves in Game 6 of a baseball National League Championship Series Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Eric Gay/Associated Press

Walker Buehler was a legend in his own right well before he won a College World Series at Vanderbilt and a World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The pitching standout was an All-Star and district champion who set an Eastern Little League record with 140 strikeouts and won the Home Run Derby. It is only fitting, then, that the pride of Ecton Park in Lexington, Kentucky, is helping give back to little leaguers and softball players across the country.

The Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation is donating baseball and softball equipment to 10,000 young athletes in under-resourced communities with the Sports Matter Giving Truck this March, and Buehler partnered with the company to help spread the word.

"It's a big part of a lot of baseball players' early career and certainly a big part of my life," Buehler told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview when talking about his Little League past. "Anything that makes that more accessible and can bring a little light into those kids' lives is a worthy cause."

Photo Credit: Dick's Sporting Goods

The Sports Matter Giving Truck, which also donated sports equipment to 10,000 children during the holiday season, will make stops in Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa, Mobile, Houston, El Paso, Phoenix and Los Angeles as it attempts to make baseball and softball more accessible.

"In this economy and environment with what's going on in the world, I think it's important for us all to take a step back and realize the kids are the future of this thing," Buehler said. "There's not going to be Major League Baseball players in 15 years if we don't try to spread the game, and being a part of it now is our responsibility and our duty to help do that."

Buehler, who has also hosted annual golf tournaments to raise money to help fight cancer and bolster medical research, is no stranger to giving back off the field.

"I've been fortunate in having a lot of people that have helped me along the way," he said. "I think that's one of the coolest things about being a Major League Baseball player is having that platform and trying to do some good with it. Things like this and my event are always going to be a part of my life and something I want to continue to do well past the time that my career's over."

Photo Credit: Dick's Sporting Goods

Buehler has an even bigger platform to do just that after helping lead the Dodgers to a World Series title in 2020.

While the 2019 All-Star dealt with a blister on his right index finger that sent him to the injured list multiple times last year, he was brilliant in five postseason starts and posted a 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 25 innings. He allowed one earned run and three hits while striking out 10 in six innings of work in Los Angeles' Game 3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in the Fall Classic.

The championship was the Dodgers' first since 1988 and helped break their reputation as the team that always came close but never lifted the trophy that developed from 2013-19 when they lost two World Series and two National League Championship Series despite winning seven straight National League West crowns.

Buehler believes his experience winning the 2014 College World Series title with the Commodores will help as Los Angeles enters a new season with a target on its back as the defending champion.

"For me personally, having done that in college, I think the big thing we talked about then was recreating the process and really diving into that," he said … "Last year was last year, but it can give you some confidence and some reassurance that you're on the right track and following the right process. But now you've got to recreate it and start from zero."

Recreating even a division title will not be easy after the San Diego Padres traded for four-time All-Star Yu Darvish and 2018 American League Cy Young winner Blake Snell this offseason.

They also gave star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. a massive 14-year contract extension and have plenty of momentum coming off their first playoff appearance since 2006.

"I don't think it's 100 percent directed at us, they want to win a world championship just like we do," Buehler said of San Diego's head-turning moves. "It's been a fun series between us going back a couple years now, at least since I've been there. I think that's only going to get bigger. It should be a good time, and I think it will be a little bit of a playoff atmosphere. Our team loves that atmosphere, and I think they do as well."

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

San Diego landed the 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up in Darvish, but Los Angeles brought in the winner when it signed Trevor Bauer.

The addition of the pitcher who led the league with a 1.73 ERA last year and the return of five-time All-Star and 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price after he opted out of the 2020 campaign means the Dodgers are even more loaded than they were last season.

Buehler said there is a "buzz" inside the locker room as the season approaches.

"It's hard not to be excited. There's only a few guys of [Bauer's] caliber out there in any given year, so to go and make that move, we've got a window to go win some games. And I think what's kind of being overlooked a little bit is we've added another Cy Young winner with David Price … Getting him back and adding those two guys to our rotation that we felt was pretty good already does nothing but help and create a little buzz inside of our locker room."

It also raises the possibility that the Dodgers could use a six-man rotation at times since they now have Bauer, Price, Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin.

"I think with our organization and the way that we've built rest into our rotation and have the depth to do things like that has benefitted all of us in a lot of ways," Buehler said. "But it's one of those things that's above my pay grade. I try to go get guys out when they give me the ball. We all want to be out there, but we all want to be healthy and ready to go at the end of the year."

If they are, anything less than another World Series crown will be a disappointment for Buehler and the Dodgers.