Darren Baker Using Strong Cape Performance To Make His Own Name
In Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, Darren Baker was serving as the bat boy for the Giants, managed by his father, Dusty Baker. After Kenny Lofton hit, Darren, then three years old, darted out to home plate to retrieve his bat—only the play was still unfolding. J.T. Snow was coming in to score with David Bell following close behind, as Baker got to the plate. Snow picked him up and took him out harm’s way at the plate.
It is an enduring image in World Series play and led MLB to create a rule requiring bat boys to be at least 14. It is how most baseball fans know Baker. But it’s time for that to change.
Darren Baker this year is reintroducing himself to the baseball world. After hitting .306/.367/.335 with 21 stolen bases this spring as a sophomore at California, he has carried that momentum into the summer in the Cape Cod League. Playing for Wareham, the second baseman is hitting .330/.375/.366 and earned a spot in Sunday's all-star game. His production and tools are opening eyes going into his junior year.
Baker is glad he has finally been able to start carving out his own place in the baseball world, one that doesn’t have to do with that moment in the World Series 17 years ago or who his father is.
“It took longer than I would have liked, but people are starting to notice me for my play on the field instead of my last name or getting picked up at home plate,” he said. “I feel like I have a lot to offer the game and it’s showing now.”
Baker has long had an intriguing skill set built around solid bat-to-ball skills and plus speed, but now those tools are starting to come together.
“I feel like I had to mature a little bit,” Baker said. “I rode the roller coaster the last two years; the highs were really high, and the lows were really low. Being consistent each day showing up to the yard made a huge difference.”
Wareham manager Jerry Weinstein has been very impressed with Baker and a little surprised after getting to see him play a few games this spring with Cal.
“I didn’t think he could throw the way he could throw, I didn’t think he had that much strength with the bat in terms of being able to hit the ball over someone’s head and he can do that,” Weinstein said. “His overall pitch-to-pitch focus and preparation has been tremendous.”
Baker briefly played on the Cape last year, appearing in seven games late in the season for Brewster. That experience helped prepare him for what to expect this summer and to realize that while the talent in the league is impressive, it’s still the same game.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way since I was out here last year,” he said. “It just shows hard work really does pay off. The improvement I’ve been able to make has been indescribable.”
Baker, listed at 6 feet, 170 pounds, has greatly improved in the last year. The lefthanded hitter has adjusted his stance to lower his hands and is focused on driving the ball up the middle or into the left field gap.
He’s worked on his defense at second base and credited coaches Damon Lessler and Pat Shine for helping him over the last two years at Cal. He had good hands coming into college, but said he’s learned how to read hitters swings and worked on his first step. Those improvements helped earn him a spot on this year’s Pac-12 all-defense team.
Baker isn’t done working on his defense. This summer he is practicing in the outfield in an effort to improve his versatility, which he knows will help in pro ball. His speed would profile well there, and Weinstein believes he has the arm strength for the outfield as well.
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Baker will be an intriguing prospect in next year’s draft. He doesn’t hit for much power and doesn’t walk as much as today’s top-of-the-order hitters are expected to (though he doesn’t strike out much either), but as a lefthanded hitter with good bat-to-ball skills, plus speed and a strong track record of hitting in college and now on the Cape, he figures to be in the mix in the top five rounds. It's an overall package that is reminiscent of Astros outfielder/second baseman Tony Kemp, who starred at Vanderbilt before being selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft.
Baker’s bloodlines and history of growing up around the game will help as well. There aren’t many similarities between Darren’s game and his father’s—Dusty was a righthanded hitting corner outfielder with good pop—but his development has clearly benefitted from his father’s guidance.
Baker said as much as his father has personally helped him, the people he’s been able to connect him to have also been very beneficial. Baker said he still talks to Jay Bruce and Joey Votto, who played for Dusty in Cincinnati, every couple of weeks.
Weinstein said the younger Baker has a steady personality, never getting too high or too low, which he thinks is also a result of growing up around the big leagues.
“Not a lot of peaks and valleys in the way he approaches the game and that’s good,” Weinstein said. “That’s also probably a result of spending times in big league locker room because over the course of a 162-game season, you can’t be all over the place emotionally and he’s not.”
The big league schedule meant Dusty couldn’t watch many of Darren’s games when he was growing up. But with him being out of baseball the last two years since the Nationals fired him after the 2017 season, he has become a regular at his son’s games.
Darren said he’s enjoying the time he gets to spend with his father now.
“Just spending time with him, I really learned to cherish that,” he said. “Especially because hopefully next year I’ll be gone around this time in pro ball, so just making the most of the time we have together.”
All of that is still a ways down the road, however. For now, Baker is hoping for a strong finish to the summer. Wareham last year won the championship and this year again has one of the best teams in the league.
Baker said he just wants to keep playing well and winning games over the next few weeks, while enjoying the end of the summer on the Cape.
“At this point, we’ve got a chance to really win some games out here,” he said. “That would be nice. I want to showcase my talent.”