Baker's son ready for next step in baseball

Darren doesn't recall famous scene when he was saved from collision

May 20th, 2017

ATLANTA -- Darren Baker's baseball career at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, Calif., is over. The Marauders lost a first-round playoff game earlier this week, ending their 2017 season.

Darren, the only son of Nationals manager Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker Jr., could be heading this fall to play college ball at Cal Berkeley. But then again, he might not. There's a little thing called the 2017 MLB Draft on June 12-14.

Johnnie B. told on Friday night that the Baker family is holding its cards close to the vest for the moment. His son is now a 6-foot, 155-pound shortstop who led off and batted .396 this season.

"He's been scouted by quite a few teams," Baker said, sitting in his office hours before the Nationals played the Braves at SunTrust Park. "Quite a few teams have been out to the house. Some teams have shown more interest than others. I think he's going to play at Cal, but we're leaving his options open. It depends on where he gets drafted. In what round and by whom."

First of all, there's graduation next Saturday just outside Sacramento, and Dad is taking the weekend off from managing the Nationals. He'll miss the three-game home series against the Padres and rejoin the team when it travels to San Francisco.

"If I had to miss three games, you couldn't have picked a better scenario," Baker said. "It's about as perfect as you can get."

Yes, Darren Baker is the kid who gained national fame when J.T. Snow plucked him out of harm's way at home plate during Game 5 of the 2002 World Series at AT&T Park. He was 3 years old, and his father managed the Giants, who lost in seven games to the Angels. Snow had just scored, and David Bell was barreling down the third-base line. Darren, the youngest bat boy in baseball history, had prematurely gone to the plate to pick up Kenny Lofton's stick.

Darren was so young at the time that last week he told Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee he doesn't remember the incident.

"It's like it never happened," he said. "Sadly, in my mind it's just not there."

His dad remembers the incident and breaks into one of his characteristic big smiles, that signature toothpick dangling from his lower lip. He remembers everything. Darren is the only child from his second marriage to Melissa. Dusty has a daughter, Natosha, now 37, from his first one.

Darren has been around the game forever, tutored along the way by Barry Bonds, Chris Speier, Joey Votto, , and , who speaks to him every few weeks.

"He has plenty of guys to emulate," Baker said. "And he loves it, that's the thing. Whether it's this year or a couple of years, he's not in awe of going into pro ball. He wasn't like me. I wasn't a good student. I played all sports. When I graduated from [El Campo High School], I had to make a choice.

"For him it's no choice. He's always loved baseball. He was always sliding as a little kid. Sliding in the Safeway, sliding in the airport. I was always telling him to get up from the ground."

In fact, at the end of the video clip in which Snow makes the big save, Darren doubles back to retrieve his helmet and then takes a makeshift slide, feet first, the way it's supposed to be done. The younger Baker loves to steal a base. That's his game.

It's no wonder scouts have been coming in droves to watch the kid play. Baker says among the clubs that have made contact are the Braves, Dodgers, Giants, A's, Cubs, Reds and Nationals -- every team Baker has either played for or managed in a career that began when he was picked by Atlanta in the 26th round of the 1967 Draft. He played the outfield and batted .278, but stole only 137 bases in 19 seasons.

"To each his own," Papa Baker said.

Some see Darren as an outfielder, some see him as a middle infielder. But he's 17 years old now and hasn't developed yet either physically or mentally. What position he wants to play or if he wants to turn pro is a matter of family discussion. The only thing expected was that Darren maintain his grades, and he'll graduate with a 3.7 GPA.

"My dad basically lets me pick where I want to play," Darren said. "Where I want to play, for what team I want to play. Everything's on me. He's not a hovering parent. He almost gives me too much space. It's usually me going to him for advice."

That's the way Johnnie B. Sr. handled his son. And if it was good enough for Dusty and his dad, it should be good enough for Darren, too.

Darren has traveled with his dad during every baseball season and is planning to be back for another tour with the Nationals this summer, after the Draft, after various tryouts, after graduation.

But if Darren decides to jump right to the pros, Dusty knows that will come to an end.

Dusty is a prostate cancer survivor, survivor of a mini-stroke, and at 67 is well aware that all things come to an end. But no matter what direction his son takes, right now, it's all good.

"Yeah, he's graduating, and it makes you think of the kid's first day at school," he said. "I remember his first day in high school at Jesuit, going to orientation. I guess it's just life. You see yourself getting older, you see him getting older. You know you've got to let him leave the nest like we did. You just hope you did your job and he's prepared."