Prepared by Darren Baker, Washington Nationals

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BERKELEY, California — When the coronavirus pandemic stopped the sport over a year ago, newly appointed Houston Astros head Dusty Baker dropped out of spring training and returned to Granite Bay, California, just outside of Sacramento. Likewise, his son Darren did when the baseball season—along with his in-person classes at the University of California, Berkeley—abruptly ended.

For four months, the Bakers were deprived of the sport and its sensations—the crunch of a ball meeting a bat, the smell of freshly cut grass—that had long given their lives a rhythm and a foothold.

Instead, they found something unexpected, a gift that a father and son could treasure even more: time together.

That meant morning fishing excursions at a friend’s pond. Afternoon trainings in the batting cage. While he took care of dusty cabbage, zucchini, collard greens, garlic, onions, okra, peas, vines and fruit trees, Darren took care of his online classes. And in the evening, after Melissa Baker – Dusty’s wife and Darren’s mother – cooked dinner, which meant watching Westerns on TV, Darren did his best to stay awake from one Clint Eastwood movie after another.

And as the pandemic deepened, they watched almost silently as the racial justice protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd; unspoken context, including Dusty’s experiences playing professional baseball in the South in the 1960s and ’70s, and his driving with Henry Aaron. Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.

“Obviously everything about the virus and the protests was not good,” Darren said. But I haven’t had so much direct time with my father at home in a long time. There are positive things in everything.”

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

Only then, especially in the batting cage, did young Baker give credit for his final-year season when he led the Bears with a .327 average, 28 stolen bases, and earned All-Pac-12 first-team and defensive team honors. as the second baseman. Now she is preparing to start a professional career. He was envisioned by some ranking services as a fifth-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft, but was picked in the tenth round (293rd overall) on Monday by one of his father’s former clubs, the Washington Nationals. The draft, which has been reduced to 20 rounds this season, will end on Tuesday with rounds 11 to 20.

As the Watchers evaluated his play, they certainly noticed that Darren Baker’s father was blessed with his radiant smile—which comforts strangers and attracts friends and teammates—and carries him on a baseball diamond with a familiar family élan. He has slender limbs and long fingers, those broad “Baker’s shoulders” as his mother describes him, and a bit of tailoring talent: the yellow crampons and black sliding gloves dangling from his back pocket remind him of the way his father stacked up. he had sweatbands on his wrist and a toothpick hung from his mouth inside the bunker.

Melissa was recently sent a photo of Dusty with her legs tied, leaning against a bat. It was accompanied by another photo of Darren captured in a similar pose.

“When we see a smile, it’s such a beautiful thing,” Melissa said.

If Darren Baker’s climb up the ladder to the big leagues introduces him to a wider audience, some will remember a memory they don’t remember: As a 3-year-old bat boy, he hurried home to get a license plate to fulfill his mission. During Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, he was caught only by the San Francisco Giants main runner, JT Snow, who saved him from a potential disaster – a collision with the plate.

It was a moment caught on national television that resonated far beyond baseball: It could have been the little punk dressed in a petite uniform, a black jacket to keep him warm, and a batting helmet to keep him safe. a puppy wandering on a busy street.

After the incident, Giants manager Dusty was reprimanded for putting a child in danger (his own mother gave him an ear), and Major League Baseball soon required all bat men to be at least 14 years old. And since then, the young Baker has been constantly reminded of by outsiders. (Yuli Gurriel, who now plays for Dusty with the Astros, remembered watching the game develop as a teenager in Cuba.)

And yet, if not for the clip survive on the internet, Darren Baker would have no way of reconstructing many people’s memories of him.

“Strange,” Darren said. “As if it wouldn’t have happened to me if it wasn’t for videos or YouTube.” “When I was younger, I used to take three or four hits in a game and someone would say, ‘Hey, are you that kidnapped kid?’ he would say. It’s funny now. I wish I remembered.”

Growing up, Darren’s father often told him that he could be a leader, that he would be someone important. Maybe it was because Dusty had to wait so long to be 50 years old to have a son – she has a daughter named Natosha from a previous marriage.

Or maybe it’s because he was on deck when Aaron Ruth broke the record, growing up in the shadow of a man serving as a naval reserve officer, smoking pot on a San Francisco street corner with Jimi Hendrix, (from Glenn Burke) Considered top five, books In addition to his distinguished gaming and managerial careers, writing and making wine, he had to do something.

“It was something I had a hard time growing up with – I was separating myself from baseball,” Darren said. “This was my life, it was all I knew since I was born and went to spring training. But he is my father’s great helper. In the garden – he thinks he is a farmer. He discovers different things, different paths.”

His 72-year-old son, Dusty, said he saw a better version of himself. Darren once asked him to give money to a homeless person Darren thought might be an angel, and when they were home together, Darren would remind Dusty to say his prayers before bed. He took a gun safety class to go hunting with his father, but later told him he didn’t dare shoot a bird.

At the start of the pandemic, Darren donated 1,000 meals to a hunger charity and launched an online campaign to raise money for businesses in downtown Sacramento damaged during the riots – gestures Dusty only learned after the event. Dusty is also extremely proud that, unlike Darren himself, he has a college degree in American Studies, which he graduated in May.

“I’m not bad – and he’s not perfect. But I was wilder than he was,” Dusty said with a laugh that seemed to rise from his stomach even on the phone. “My generation wanted to be wilder.”

Baseball’s current generation is filled with lineages of past players: Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Ke’Bryan Hayes, Cody Bellinger, Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette among them. Jack Leiter, a Vanderbilt pitcher whose father, Al Leiter, is a two-time All-Star pitcher, went to the Texas Rangers with the #2 overall pick in this year’s draft.

When Dusty led the Giants and then the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals and now the Astros, he had Darren by his side at every opportunity. It was evident from an early age that he was an observer: On a 4-year-old T-ball, he stepped into the hitter box, raising his left hand to make sure he wouldn’t shoot too fast. He was scolded for spitting at home when he was 5 years old. When Darren was 9 years old, he limped into second base and told his father that he might need to get on the disabled list. (Dusty informs his son that Bakers is not going to DL)

As Darren grew older, he sat quietly in the bunker and watched the games intently. He turned to the better players on his father’s teams – Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in Cincinnati, Bryce Harper in Washington and George Springer in Houston last year. What Votto told him as an 11-year-old—to focus on hitting the ball in the middle or vice versa—is the advice he still sticks to. As he got older, he would ask them more direct questions like what they were thinking in a particular at-bat. He would listen carefully to what Barry Bonds had to say to him when they entered the cage together.

If some kids don’t always want to hear what their parents have to say—“yes, that’s still the case sometimes,” Dusty said—it helped have professionals co-sign on a dad’s advice.

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

Thanks to the show’s grace, Dusty was able to see Darren play twice this season while the Astros were at Oakland. Otherwise, they talk on the phone regularly, often when Dusty is at the ballpark—the first 10 seconds of their call usually involve Darren telling his father to turn off the music in his office, which is often filled with soothing lights, scented candles, and candles. incense.

What’s striking about watching Darren play baseball is that it’s in many ways a throwback to the time his father was successful as a successful outfielder with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His speed, aggression, defence, situational kick, and ability to make contact with little power were all good for the 1980s Kansas City Royals and St. It fit the Louis Cardinals perfectly. But in today’s game of launch angles, 100-mph heaters, and three real results baseball (walk, batting, and batting) there are questions about whether the lack of power is worth six extra base kicks (all doubles) at 223. at-bats this season – will eventually hinder his progress.

Dusty believes his son will fill Baker’s shoulders, transform into size 13 shoes, and start dribbling like one of his own players, Michael Brantley. Growing up with wooden bats—Springer donated a dozen ax-handled bats to him last year—and getting used to the bright lights will also serve Darren well, he added.

“He needs to be in the right organization that appreciates a baseball player, not just a slacker, because he can do a lot of things to help you win,” said Dusty Baker, who has faithfully supported his players in his fourth decade as manager. It’s a habit that won’t be broken for your loved one.

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