CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The beginning of 2015 Australian prospect Louis Baker’s baseball career can be traced directly to what he and his mother Carolyn laughingly refer to as “The Spaghetti Strainer Incident.”
When young Louis was but 3 years old, they told Perfect Game Saturday morning before the beginning of the 12th annual PG Spring Top Prospect Showcase at Perfect Game Field-Veterans Memorial Stadium, he was behaving the way 3-year-olds are sometimes inclined to behave. In other words the young Baker boy – the oldest of Damian and Carolyn Baker’s three children – was fuming and fussing, and tossing around kitchen bowls and utensils.
“I was throwing a bit of a tantrum and I got a hold of spaghetti strainer that I threw through the ceiling,” Baker said while Carolyn, sitting nearby, laughed at the memory. “My dad said, ‘Oh, OK, it looks like he has a good enough arm to play baseball.’ So I guess I sort of signed on pretty quickly after that.”
Louis Baker is a 6-foot-1, 197-pound catching prospect who is one of nearly 150 players performing at this weekend’s PG Spring Top Prospect Showcase, with games being played at both Perfect Game Field and Cedar Rapids Washington High School.
Just more than 100 of those players made relatively short trips from their homes within Iowa’s borders, although there are 11 Canadians and prospects from at least nine other states in attendance. Baker and his mom definitely traveled the farthest to be here – an 8,800-mile junket that took 26 hours on a jetliner to complete.
“I’m here for a chance to get picked up for a college scholarship, hopefully,” Baker said early Saturday morning, shivering slightly against a chilly easterly wind while also admitting to a mild case of the nerves. “This gives me more experience and exposure on a global stage and the chance to face more quality opposition as opposed to back home where there are only certain times of the year you get to face quality competition, such as the national tournaments and at major league academies.”
Baker decided to put that arm strength that he displayed at such a young age to use as a catcher and shortstop, not a pitcher. He accounted for himself nicely during the morning workout session, throwing 77 miles-per-hour from behind the plate to second base, an effort that tied for fourth-best at the event, and his Pop time of 2.00 seconds was second-best. He then threw 82 mph across the infield, which tied for 11th best on Saturday.
“I definitely have some expectations and that’s why we came,” Baker said before the workout. “If I didn’t have any expectations I really wouldn’t be here, as such; there’s definitely some incentive to do well.” He quickly added that he plans to remain a primary catcher.
“It’s interesting because you get to work with the pitcher, and I’m a people person so I like interacting with the pitchers and I like to control the game,” he said. “Having the ability to maybe make or break the game is something that I like having on my shoulders.”
When back home in Queensland – Australia’s second largest state located in the northeast corner of the country – Baker plays for a summer ball team called the Queensland Rams, which, he said, recently won an Australian national age-group championship.
This past summer (winter in the U.S.) he took part in the Major League Baseball Australian Academy (MLBAA) program, a weeks-long program Baker likened to extended spring training. Baseball is not offered as an interscholastic sport in Australia’s schools, so high school-aged prospects like Baker must explore their options and determine what will best satisfy their needs.
“This is a fantastic opportunity; it perhaps gives you that opportunity to see where you’re at with your baseball,” his mother, Carolyn, said. “He’s passionate about it and it’s about coming in and saying, ‘Well, this is what I can do and where does it fit?’ It seemed to us that there were only a few opportunities to come from Australia and actually exhibit your skills here in the States amongst your peers.
“Perfect Game was highly recommended to us by other Queenslanders who were familiar with Jack (Barrie) and had come over, as well,” she continued. “This Perfect Game showcase idea just seemed like the thing to do, so we made the effort – 26 hours on a plane.”
The sport seems to be gaining some traction Down Under with major league teams opening academies and signing young Aussie prospects to lucrative contracts. In February, 18-year-old first baseman Jack Barrie – a four-year teammate of Baker’s on Queensland summer ball teams – accepted a $250,000 contract offer from the Minnesota Twins just two months after appearing at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event in Fort Myers, Fla.
“That was a great experience. That kind of gave me the confidence boost, if you will,” Barrie said of the PG Underclass-Main Event in the days after he signed with the Twins. “I went there and I was like, ‘I’m not too sure how I match up against these kids and I’m an outsider and I’ve never seen this kind of baseball before.’
“I went there and I did all right, I did pretty well, and that was a massive confidence boost for me to know I can compete with these kids; it gives you a peace of mind.”
While Baker would be content with getting some college interest as a result of being here this weekend, he would also welcome a career path like the one his friend Jack Barrie is traveling.
“I would love to follow in his footsteps,” Baker said. “He’s a year older than me and everything happened pretty suddenly for him. I’d love to have the same opportunity as he (received) and that’s why I’m here, I guess. It would be fantastic to go that same route again.”
Even though the great “Spaghetti Strainer Incident” provided a very early indication of a pending baseball career, Baker really didn’t start getting serious about the game until he was 7 years old – 10 years ago, now – and again at the urging of his father. Damian’s athletic endeavor was the javelin, a field event that he pursued competitively at the international level.
“He always had the arm,” Baker said of his dad, “and he really thought I could do something better with my arm than throw a javelin. He thought maybe I could try to make some money out of it and really enjoy the sport whilst I’m doing it. Plus, the whole competitive side of (baseball) is what I really enjoy.”
Baseball isn’t the only sport Baker pursues, although, as his mother pointed out, it is his passion. When back home at Somerset College high school in Mudgeeraba, Gold Coast, Queensland, he serves as the captain of the school’s cricket team, the centuries-old sport some historians argue is an ancestor of baseball. Baker, a 17-year-old junior at Somerset College, sees only a couple of similarities between the two.
“There’s that competitive edge in both sports; you want to go out and win,” he said, “and hand-eye coordination is enormous in both sports. A game of cricket is like a long season. Those long innings in cricket – which involve a long time batting – are sort of like a long season. You have to grind out every pitch and every ball, which is like grinding out every day (during a season). You can be out there for a long time.”
This is not Louis and Carolyn Baker’s first trip to the United States. The entire family – Damian, Carolyn, Louis, and Louis’ younger brother and sister – were in the States a year ago, visiting Hawaii and Southern California. This trip is a bit of a whirlwind compared to that one and strictly business: Louis and Carolyn arrived here Wednesday night and will head home on Monday.
“The people here have been absolutely amazing,” Carolyn said. “They’ve welcomed us really well and have gone out of their way to be helpful and to tell Louie all the stuff that you don’t know if you’ve never been to Perfect Game before. It’s been fabulous and we’re just looking forward to a great day today – the sun’s shining and it’s going to be great.”
And not a single spaghetti strainer was spotted sailing across the sky above Perfect Game Field the entire day.