Tournaments : : Story
Friday, January 18, 2013

Reds' Baker watches son at MLK

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The last time most of us heard anything about Darren Baker, he was a rambunctious 3-year-old serving as a bat-boy for the San Francisco Giants during their World Series encounter with the then-Anaheim Angels.

Darren's father, Dusty Baker, was the manager of the Giants in October, 2002, a post he had held since 1993. Darren famously leapt into history when he ran out to retrieve a bat used by the Angels' Kenny Lofton, who had just tripled.

The triple scored J.T. Snow and David Bell was also barreling toward home plate right as young Darren reached that coveted space. Snow alertly grabbed Darren by the back of his jersey and drug him out of harm's way.

After the close-call, Major League Baseball enacted a rule unofficially called "the Darren Baker rule" that prohibited anyone younger than 14 years old from being a bat-boy in a big league game.

Today, 11 years later, Darren Baker is himself a ballplayer and this weekend is playing with NorCal Baseball in the 14u Perfect Game MLK Championship which began its four-day run on Friday. The 18u and 16u PG MLK Championships are also being contested with all three tournaments being played at the Camelback Ranch Complex.

Among the parents in the stands cheering on NorCal Baseball Friday afternoon at the L.A. Dodgers' spring training practice facility at Camelback was Darren's father Dusty, the current manager of the National League Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds.

Baker has been a big-league manager since 1993 -- he managed the Giants from 1993-2002, the Chicago Cubs from 2003-2006 and the Reds since 2008 -- a tenure that has covered the 14-year-old Darren's entire life.

Sitting in a folding chair right behind the backstop while he watched his son play, the 63-year-old Baker seemed as content and proud as any other parent in attendance.

"I don't get to watch him as much as my wife gets to watch him ... so anytime I get a chance to do it, I do," he said during a postgame conversation with Perfect Game. "He's growing up in front of my eyes -- he's in eighth grade now and he'll be in high school next year -- so it's a real treat to come out. I hope he doesn't feel pressure when I'm out here because he wants to do so well, especially because I can't come out all that much."

Dusty tries to work with him as much as he can, but his family calls Granite Bay, Calif., home and since he manages in Cincinnati he's just not home much during the seven month baseball season.

"We work out at home a lot and we work out during the season," Baker said. "He's always in the cage playing games with other kids, and he loves baseball. I've always told him, 'Just play as long as you can, at the highest level that you can and as long as you love it."

Darren Baker is a 5-foot-7, 120-pound left-handed hitting and right-handed throwing second baseman and outfielder. This is his first experience with a Perfect Game event and by joining NorCal Baseball, he has hooked up with one of the premier travel ball organizations in the country.

"He's developing into a pretty good little ballplayer," his father said. "He's not as (physically) mature as some of these 6-(feet)-1, 6-6 kids you see out here, but he's working hard on getting his strength and I just tell him to maintain and work on his skill in the game, and his strength will come, much like I did. When I graduated from high school and entered the draft, I was 5-11, 170-pounds, and I grew between (the ages of) 18 and 22."

Dusty Baker was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 26th round of the 1967 MLB amateur draft and enjoyed a productive 19-year career with the Braves (eight years), Dodgers (eight), Oakland A's (two) and the Giants (one). He was a career .278 hitter with 242 home runs and 1,013 RBI.

He served as a first base coach and hitting coach for several years before getting his first managerial job with the Giants in 1993. He has been named NL manager of the year three times during his career.

Baker said he enjoys getting out to the ballpark and watching the young prospects -- the next generation of big-leaguers, if you will -- perform.

"It makes you think about yourself; where you were, where you came from, where you are now," he said, smiling at the memory. "It make you appreciate how much you've been through in your career and it gives you a great barometer on how much you love the game. It makes me think about the times when everybody thinks (the players) are just in it for the money, but you played a lot more games for free and out in the sun for nothing other than pride and love of the game than you did when you were a professional."

Last season, Major League Baseball was blessed by the arrival of two sensational rookies, the L.A. Angels' Mike Trout and the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper, both Perfect Game alumni. While their skill brought a lot of attention to the game and their ages (Trout was 20, Harper 19) created even more conversation, Baker doesn't feel like the younger players of today are any further along in their development than those from his generation.

"I don't think they're any more developed," he said Friday. "They rush them to get (to the big leagues) because of the notoriety and all the magazine articles that are written about them, and not only are all the people reading about them, they expect them (in the big leagues)."

Baker said he feels like a young player coming through the ranks these days can get to the big leagues faster than one from his generation for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the number of teams. When Baker made his MLB debut in 1968 at age 19, there were only 16 MLB clubs. Today there are 30 teams.

"There were always (young) guys that got there," Baker said. "Guys like Bob Horner -- I remember when Henry Aaron first told me about Robin Yount -- and then a guy like Dave Winfield. There are some guys that are always going to come up early, but they have a better chance of coming up early now depending on how big of investment the team has in a player. A lot of it is marketing.

"These guys are great players, but back in my day it would have been tough to get to the big leagues hitting .250 or .260 (in the minor leagues)."

Dusty Baker recently signed a two-year contract extension with the Reds and when that expires, he will have a decision to make. He would really like to be able to enjoy Darren's high school and Perfect Game baseball careers and watch first-hand where that may take the young prospect.

"He likes me being at the (big-league) ballpark, but I've got to make a decision about how much longer I want to (continue to manage) or do I want to lose those years like I did with my daughter," Baker said. "Do I maybe want to go back to ball after (Darren graduates) or do I just want to stay home. That's the decision I'll have to make."

As for Darren, he also has something else to consider. He is now, finally, legally old enough to resume his bat-boy career.


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