MLB Draft: Darren Baker Is Ready to Be Known for Something Else

BERKELEY, Calif. — When the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports activities greater than a yr in the past, Dusty Baker, who had simply taken over as supervisor of the Houston Astros, left spring coaching and returned residence to Granite Bay, Calif., simply outdoors Sacramento. So, too, did his son Darren, when his baseball season — alongside along with his in-person lessons on the University of California, Berkeley — got here to an abrupt finish.

For 4 months, the Bakers have been disadvantaged of the game and its sensations — the crack of a ball assembly a bat, the odor of freshly lower grass — which had lengthy offered a rhythm and an anchor to their lives.

In its place, they discovered one thing sudden, a present that a father and a son may treasure much more: time collectively.

That meant morning fishing jaunts to a buddy’s pond. Afternoon hitting tutorials within the batting cage. Dusty tending to his cabbage, zucchini, collard greens, garlic, onions, okra, peas, grapevines and fruit timber whereas Darren tended to his on-line lessons. And within the night, after Melissa Baker — Dusty’s spouse and Darren’s mother — cooked dinner, that meant watching Westerns on tv, Darren doing his finest to keep awake by means of one Clint Eastwood film after one other.

And because the pandemic deepened, they sat in close to silence watching the racial justice protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, the unstated context being Dusty’s experiences taking part in skilled baseball within the South within the 1960s and ’70s, together with his journey alongside Henry Aaron as Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s residence run file.

“Obviously, everything going on with the virus and the protests were not good,” Darren mentioned. “But I had never spent that much direct time with my dad at home in a long time. There are positives in everything.”

“We tried to make our time as meaningful and productive as possible,” Dusty mentioned in a telephone interview. “It was as much fun as I’ve had in a long time.”

The youthful Baker doesn’t have a lot energy (six extra-base hits in 223 at-bats this season) however gamers like Joey Votto taught him the worth of spraying the ball all around the area.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York TimesIn the sphere, Baker was primarily a second baseman for Cal however he additionally spent a while within the outfield. He is projected by some rankings companies as a fifth-round decide. Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

That time alone, particularly within the batting cage, is what the youthful Baker credit for a senior-year season wherein he led the Bears with a .327 common, 28 stolen bases and earned All-Pac-12 first crew and defensive crew honors as a second baseman. Now he’s making ready to embark on an expert profession, projected by some rankings companies as a fifth-round decide within the Major League Baseball draft, which began on Sunday and concludes on Tuesday.

As scouts assessed his sport, they certainly took discover that Darren Baker is blessed along with his father’s incandescent smile — the one which units strangers relaxed and attracts in buddies and teammates — and that he carries himself on a baseball diamond with a well-recognized familial élan. There are the lanky limbs and the lengthy fingers, these broad “Baker shoulders,” as his mom described them, and bits of sartorial aptitude: the yellow cleats and the black sliding gloves flapping from his again pocket that recall the way in which his father piled up sweatbands on his wrist and dangled a toothpick from his mouth within the dugout.

Melissa was lately despatched a photograph of Dusty, his legs crossed, leaning on a bat. It was accompanied by one other photograph — of Darren caught in the same pose.

“When we see the smile, it’s a beautiful thing,” Melissa mentioned.

If Darren Baker’s journey up the ladder towards the large leagues introduces him to a broader viewers, to some it’s going to recall a second he doesn’t bear in mind: As a Three-year-old bat boy, he dutifully scurried out to residence plate to retrieve a bat throughout Game 5 of the 2002 World Series solely to be scooped up by the San Francisco Giants base runner J.T. Snow, who rescued him from a possible calamity — a collision on the plate.

It was a second, captured on nationwide tv, that resonated far past baseball: the little tyke, wearing a pint-size uniform, with a black jacket to maintain him heat and a batting helmet to maintain him protected, might as effectively have been a pet wandering right into a busy avenue.

After the incident, Dusty, then the Giants supervisor, was castigated for endangering a toddler (his personal mom gave him an earful) and Major League Baseball quickly required that each one bat boys be no less than 14 years outdated. And ever since, the younger Baker has been perpetually reminded of the second by strangers. (Yuli Gurriel, who now performs for Dusty with the Astros, remembered watching the play unfold as an adolescent in Cuba.)

Baker was Three years outdated when, in his capability as a bat boy for the Giants, he bumped into the motion throughout a World Series sport to retrieve a bat solely to be rescued by J.T. Snow. Baker doesn’t bear in mind the incident.Credit…Kevork Djansezian/Associated PressWhereas the World Series incident led to the M.L.B. imposing age limits for bat boys, Darren continued to spend an excessive amount of time round Dusty’s groups, selecting up fairly a bit alongside the way in which.Credit…Al Behrman/Associated Press

And but, if not for the clip remaining alive on the web, Darren Baker would haven’t any means to reconstruct the reminiscence that so many individuals have of him.

“It’s weird,” Darren mentioned. “If there were no videos or no YouTube, it’s like it would have never happened for me.” He added: “When I was younger, I’d get three or four hits in a game and somebody would say, ‘Hey, are you that kid that got picked up?’ It’s funny now. I wish I remembered it.”

Growing up, Darren’s father would typically inform him that he may be a frontrunner, that he could be any individual vital. Perhaps it was as a result of Dusty had to wait so lengthy, till 50, to have a son — he has a daughter, Natosha, from a earlier marriage.

Or maybe it was as a result of any son who grew up within the shadow of a person who served as a Marine reservist, smoked weed with Jimi Hendrix on a San Francisco avenue nook, was on deck when Aaron broke Ruth’s file, acquired (from Glenn Burke) what is taken into account the primary high-five, writes books and makes wine, as well as to his distinguished taking part in and managerial careers, was sure to do … one thing.

“It’s something I struggled with growing up — separating myself from baseball,” Darren mentioned. “That was my life, that was all I knew since I was born and went to spring training. But my dad is a huge help. He’s in the garden — he thinks he’s a farmer. He’s exploring different things, different avenues.”

In his son, Dusty, 72, mentioned he sees a greater model of himself. Darren as soon as urged him to give cash to a homeless one that Darren thought may be an angel, and once they have been residence collectively, Darren would remind Dusty to say their prayers earlier than they went to mattress. He took a gun security class to go looking along with his father, however then instructed him he couldn’t convey himself to shoot a hen.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Darren donated 1,000 meals to a starvation aid group and began a web based marketing campaign to elevate cash for downtown Sacramento companies broken throughout rioting — gestures Dusty came upon about solely after the actual fact. Dusty can be immensely proud that Darren, not like him, has a school diploma, which he completed in May in American Studies.

“I’m not bad — and he’s not perfect. But I was wilder than he was,” Dusty mentioned with fun that, even by means of the telephone, appears to stand up from his stomach. “My generation meant itself to be wilder.”

When taking a look at Darren, some individuals see his father’s smile. His mom believes he has his father’s broad shoulders, and Dusty believes he’ll develop into his physique and develop energy. Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Baseball’s present era is plagued by the progeny of previous gamers: Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cody Bellinger, Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette amongst them. Jack Leiter, a pitcher from Vanderbilt whose father, Al Leiter, was a two-time All-Star pitcher, went to the Texas Rangers with the No. 2 general decide on this yr’s draft.

Beginning when Dusty managed the Giants, after which the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and now the Astros, he had Darren round at any time when he might. It was clear at an early age that he was observant: As a Four-year-old in T-ball, he stepped into the batter’s field along with his left hand raised to ensure he wasn’t going to be fast pitched. He was scolded for spitting in the home when he was 5. When Darren was 9, he got here up limping after sliding into second base and instructed his father he may need to go on the disabled checklist. (Dusty knowledgeable his son that Bakers don’t go on the D.L.)

As Darren grew older, he sat quietly within the dugout and watched video games intently. He gravitated towards the higher gamers on his dad’s groups — Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati, Bryce Harper in Washington and George Springer final yr in Houston. What Votto instructed him as an 11-year-old — to give attention to hitting the ball up the center or the other means — is recommendation he nonetheless leans on. And as he bought older, he would ask them extra direct questions, like what they have been considering in a specific at-bat. And he would pay attention rigorously to what Barry Bonds was telling him once they would hit within the cage collectively.

If some youngsters don’t all the time need to hear what their dad and mom have to say — “yeah, well that still applies sometimes,” Dusty mentioned — it helped to have professionals co-signing a father’s recommendation.

“He’d come back from hitting with Barry and tell me, ‘Barry, he sounds just like you,” Dusty added. “As a parent, you have to be really careful not to push your 50 years of experience and knowledge onto a 20-year-old. Craig Biggio would tell me about his son and tell me to not have an autopsy after every game about his at-bats, to wait until the next day, which sometimes I have trouble doing, or let him come to you.”

Baker grew right into a fantastic participant in his time at Cal. Now he hopes to be a part of an extended checklist of second-generation gamers at the moment starring within the majors.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Through the grace of the schedule, Dusty was in a position to see Darren play twice this season when the Astros have been in Oakland. Otherwise, they communicate often on the telephone, typically when Dusty is on the ballpark — the preliminary 10 seconds of their name often contain Darren telling his father to flip down the music in his workplace, which is usually bathed in soothing lights, scented candles and incense.

What is putting about watching Darren play baseball is that in some ways he’s a throwback to the period when his father thrived as a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder. His velocity, aggressiveness, protection, situational hitting and talent to make contact with little energy would have match seamlessly on the 1980s Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. But in at the moment’s sport of launch angles, 100 mile-an-hour heaters and three true end result baseball (stroll, strikeout and residential run), there are questions on whether or not his lack of energy — six extra-base hits (all doubles) in 223 at-bats this season — will finally thwart his progress.

Dusty believes his son will fill out these Baker shoulders, develop into his dimension 13 footwear and begin driving the ball within the method of one in every of his personal gamers, Michael Brantley. Growing up with picket bats — Springer donated a dozen ax-handled bats to him final yr — and being accustomed to the brilliant lights may even serve Darren effectively, he added.

“He has to be in the right organization that appreciates a ballplayer and not just a slugger because he can do a lot of things that help you win,” mentioned Dusty Baker, who in his fourth decade as a supervisor has staunchly backed his gamers, a behavior that received’t be damaged for his favourite one.