ST. PETERSBURG -- No doubt more than one father has noted about Chris Archer: "He's the kind of kid I'd want my daughter to marry."
That's because Archer is special, and being able to zip a fastball into the strike zone in the mid 90s is just a component of that designation. The young man has the perspective and the depth of someone many years his elder.
A conversation with the 24-year old right-hander can range from a discussion about pitching to a book he's recently read. In between, choice morsels about motivation, kindness and the road to success are sure to leave his lips, all in a sincere and earnest fashion.
According to Archer, his outlook on life and his disposition in general stem from a team effort. Nurturing from tremendous, caring parents provided a part of that equation. He's also benefitted by having a mentor, someone special in his life to help guide him.
Ron Walker has been that guy since Archer's freshman year in high school in Clayton, N.C. Count Walker among the many bedazzled by Archer's charisma, smile and good nature. But where first impressions were concerned, Archer captured Walker with his manners. That first "Yes, sir" went a long way.
Baseball served as the starting point for their mentor-mentee relationship that has blossomed into so much more, enriching both of their lives.
"He's showed me so much in life," Archer said, "and without my parents and without him, I probably wouldn't be where I'm at right now -- because I got my foundation from my parents, and when he came in my life, the whole thing changed."
Credit Archer's parents for having the foresight to give Walker their blessing to become a part of their son's life. Of course, given the right person, what parents wouldn't want their son or daughter to have that extra person in their life who could be a guiding light, a sounding board and a friend all rolled into one?
Along the way, Walker helped Archer see that he had more talent for baseball than football, a game he excelled at. He also helped the lights go on for the real parts of life that don't include a jock strap.
"What I wanted to do for Chris was to help him minimize the mistakes that I made in life," Walker said. "I was just trying to help him shorten his learning curve."
Initially, Walker wanted to get Archer turned on to reading, because becoming an avid reader had provided him a foundation and had been a turning point in his life.
"I started reading and trying to be the best person I could be and doing some personal development stuff," Walker said. "I introduced him to a book, and he was like, 'Coach, I hate to read.' And I said, 'You don't hate reading, you hate what you've been made to read.'"
Walker gave Archer a copy of Spencer Johnson's motivational book "Who Moved My Cheese?" Archer devoured the book and wanted more. Not only did reading books serve Archer in helping him learn, the content of his reading, much of which was motivational, applied to many things in his life and opened another avenue for dialogue with his mentor.
A concept percolated in Walker's mind that he wanted Archer to grasp.
"He could be anything that he wanted to be, and he's going to be successful in baseball," Walker said. "But baseball is just going to be a stepping stone to the success he is going to achieve in life."
Archer has embraced the life lessons and has incorporated them during his journey through the Minor Leagues that began in 2006 after the Indians selected him in the fifth round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. The journey reached an emotional high when he debuted with the Rays on June 20 in Washington against the Nationals. While Archer absorbed the loss, he allowed just one earned run in six innings, striking out seven and going toe-to-toe against Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg.
Afterward, Archer shed a few tears while he sat on the bench watching the remainder of the game.
"I didn't cry because I was happy for myself," Archer said. "I got emotional because I looked up in the stands and I saw my parents' faces, and I saw my mentor's face and how proud they were that I was there. And that the hard work and efforts they put into me put me on that stage. I'm looking around, there are 40,000 people there and I see the four people that I care most about, and I just remember the look on all four of their faces."
Archer said it wasn't about just getting there -- the hard work he had done, waking up at six in the morning, working out two or three times a day, being the first one there, the last one to leave.
"All of that is cool," Archer said. "The reason I was so emotional was my parents' faces and my mentor's face and my best friend's face -- how excited they were for me, and how much it meant to them that I was there. Basically how unselfish they were in helping me do something special."
Archer is not one to take for granted how fortunate he's been to have special people in his life. And he's a believer in how important a mentor can be in one person's life.
"It's funny, because one time I talked to him and said, 'If you passed away today, I'd be upset, but at the same time, I'd be kind of happy, because I'd feel like you have lived your life to the fullest,'" Archer said. "I feel like we all live our lives to have a lasting impact on at least one person, and he's had that on me. So regardless, his spirit is going to live forever. His words and the spirit he has given me will live forever. So it's an interesting situation and I'm very fortunate that I have that."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.