BERKELEY, Calif. — When the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports activities greater than a 12 months in the past, Dusty Baker, who had simply taken over as supervisor of the Houston Astros, left spring coaching and returned house to Granite Bay, Calif., simply exterior Sacramento. So, too, did his son Darren, when his baseball season — alongside together with his in-person lessons at the University of California, Berkeley — got here to an abrupt finish.
For 4 months, the Bakers had been disadvantaged of the sport and its sensations — the crack of a ball assembly a bat, the odor of freshly reduce grass — which had lengthy offered a rhythm and an anchor to their lives.
In its place, they discovered one thing sudden, a present father and a son may treasure much more: time collectively.
That meant morning fishing jaunts to a good friend’s pond. Afternoon hitting tutorials in the batting cage. Dusty tending to his cabbage, zucchini, collard greens, garlic, onions, okra, peas, grapevines and fruit bushes whereas Darren tended to his on-line lessons. And in the night, after Melissa Baker — Dusty’s spouse and Darren’s mother — cooked dinner, that meant watching Westerns on tv, Darren doing his greatest to remain awake by way of one Clint Eastwood film after one other.
And as 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 enjoying skilled baseball in the South in the 1960s and ’70s, together with his journey alongside Henry Aaron as Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s house run report.
“Obviously, everything going on with the virus and the protests were not good,” Darren stated. “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 stated in a telephone interview. “It was as much fun as I’ve had in a long time.”
That time alone, particularly in 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 group and defensive group honors as a second baseman. Now he’s making ready to embark on an expert profession. He had been projected by some rankings companies as a fifth-round choose in the Major League Baseball draft, however ended up being chosen in the tenth spherical (293rd general) on Monday by the Washington Nationals, one in every of his father’s former golf equipment. The draft, which has been truncated to 20 rounds this season, will conclude with rounds 11 by way of 20 on Tuesday.
As scouts assessed his sport, they certainly took discover that Darren Baker is blessed together with his father’s incandescent smile — the one which units strangers comfy and attracts in mates 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 method his father piled up sweatbands on his wrist and dangled a toothpick from his mouth in the dugout.
Melissa was not too long ago despatched a photograph of Dusty, his legs crossed, leaning on a bat. It was accompanied by one other picture — of Darren caught in an analogous pose.
“When we see the smile, it’s a beautiful thing,” Melissa stated.
If Darren Baker’s journey up the ladder towards the massive leagues introduces him to a broader viewers, to some it is going to recall a second he doesn’t bear in mind: As a Three-year-old bat boy, he dutifully scurried out to house 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 at 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 nicely have been a pet wandering right into a busy road.
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 every one bat boys be not 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.)
“It’s weird,” Darren said. “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 often tell him that he might be a leader, that he would be somebody important. Perhaps it was because Dusty had to wait so long, until 50, to have a son — he has a daughter, Natosha, from a previous marriage.
Or perhaps it was because any son who grew up in the shadow of a man who served as a Marine reservist, smoked weed with Jimi Hendrix on a San Francisco street corner, was on deck when Aaron broke Ruth’s record, received (from Glenn Burke) what is considered the first high-five, writes books and makes wine, in addition to his distinguished playing and managerial careers, was bound to do … something.
“It’s something I struggled with growing up — separating myself from baseball,” Darren said. “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, said he sees a better version of himself. Darren once urged him to give money to a homeless person who Darren thought might be an angel, and when they were home together, Darren would remind Dusty to say their prayers before they went to bed. He took a gun safety class to go hunting with his father, but then told him he couldn’t bring himself to shoot a bird.
At the start of the pandemic, Darren donated 1,000 meals to a hunger relief organization and started an online campaign to raise money for downtown Sacramento businesses damaged during rioting — gestures Dusty found out about only after the fact. Dusty is also immensely proud that Darren, unlike him, has a college degree, which he finished in May in American Studies.
“I’m not bad — and he’s not perfect. But I was wilder than he was,” Dusty said with a laugh that, even through the phone, seems to rise up from his belly. “My generation meant itself to be wilder.”
Baseball’s current generation is littered with the progeny of past players: Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cody Bellinger, Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette among 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 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Beginning when Dusty managed the Giants, and then the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and now the Astros, he had Darren around whenever he could. It was clear at an early age that he was observant: As a 4-year-old in T-ball, he stepped into the batter’s box with his left hand raised to make sure he wasn’t going to be quick pitched. He was scolded for spitting in the house when he was 5. When Darren was 9, he came up limping after sliding into second base and told his father he might have to go on the disabled list. (Dusty informed his son that Bakers don’t go on the D.L.)
As Darren grew older, he sat quietly in the dugout and watched games intently. He gravitated toward the better players on his dad’s teams — Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati, Bryce Harper in Washington and George Springer last year in Houston. What Votto told him as an 11-year-old — to focus on hitting the ball up the middle or the opposite way — is advice he still leans on. And as he got older, he would ask them more direct questions, like what they were thinking in a particular at-bat. And he would listen carefully to what Barry Bonds was telling him when they would hit in the cage together.
If some children don’t always want to hear what their parents have to say — “yeah, well that still applies sometimes,” Dusty said — it helped to have pros co-signing a father’s advice.
“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.”
Through the grace of the schedule, Dusty was able to see Darren play twice this season when the Astros were in Oakland. Otherwise, they speak regularly on the phone, often when Dusty is at the ballpark — the initial 10 seconds of their call usually involve Darren telling his father to turn down the music in his office, which is often bathed in soothing lights, scented candles and incense.
What is striking about watching Darren play baseball is that in many ways he is a throwback to the era when his father thrived as a Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder. His speed, aggressiveness, defense, situational hitting and ability to make contact with little power would have fit seamlessly on the 1980s Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals. But in today’s game of launch angles, 100 mile-an-hour heaters and three true outcome baseball (walk, strikeout and home run), there are questions about whether his lack of power — six extra-base hits (all doubles) in 223 at-bats this season — will eventually thwart his progress.
Dusty believes his son will fill out those Baker shoulders, grow into his size 13 shoes and start driving the ball in the manner of one of his own players, Michael Brantley. Growing up with wooden bats — Springer donated a dozen ax-handled bats to him last year — and being accustomed to the bright lights will also serve Darren well, 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,” said Dusty Baker, who in his fourth decade as a manager has staunchly backed his players, a habit that won’t be broken for his favorite one.