Paul Mainieri had a tear in his eye when Eric Walker went out to the mound in the top of the fifth inning of LSU's 12-7 season-opening victory over Louisiana-Monroe.
"It was surreal," Walker said. "It felt great to be out there.
"I've honestly felt that 'ovation' the whole time throughout my process. You know, the fans will tweet at me and reach out to me and just show support. In this organization I've felt that and I've felt that from the fans too. To hear it coming in and off the field, I just can't be more grateful."
Walker missed all of the 2018 season after Tommy John surgery after a stunning freshman campaign in 2017 and he returned to Alex Box Stadium Friday night.
He only pitched 2.1 innings relief, but in that time he only gave up one hit and added two strikeouts.
Mainieri's original plan was to have Walker as the Saturday starter for the Tigers, but decided to make his the mid-week starter because of a pitch limit. Those three innings against ULM allowed Walker to ease himself back into pitching.
"I like to think I'm back to where I was," Walker said. "I think my stamina can still increase throughout the season, but as far as mechanics and pitching and all that, I feel like my old self."
Though pitching in relief is different from starting in many ways, Walker treated his return to the mound like a start.
Mainieri told Walker before the game that he would be starting an inning, instead of coming in during an inning, allowed Walker to going through his same routine as if he were starting.
His preparations for his start this coming Wednesday against Northwestern State won't change either.
"I was able to long throw in the pen," Walker said. "I stretched inside. I had my turfs on throughout the game and I was able to go out there and treat it like a start. I came in from the pen essentially, like it was from the outfield as a start."
After missing over a year of baseball, coming back from one of the toughest surgeries in sports, Walker thinks he's back to where he was before.
He felt like his command was under control, but that his breaking ball is coming along. The changeup and fastball was "50/50, on and off," Walker described, but he felt that he got better over the course of the outing."
"Personally, I just felt that my command was back to my original self," Walker said. "I think the fast ball down and away is one of my biggest pitches and I really felt comfortable with that. Just coming in, I think adrenaline definitely helped, just getting all of the jitters out. The first time out felt good and I felt kind of like myself, so it's a good one to build off of."