HOUSTON -- This has been a spring of mixed emotions for Dusty Baker. There’s restlessness as he awaits word on when and how baseball will return post-coronavirus pandemic, allowing him to dive back into his new job as manager of the Astros, and there’s appreciation for being unexpectedly close to
HOUSTON -- This has been a spring of mixed emotions for Dusty Baker. There’s restlessness as he awaits word on when and how baseball will return post-coronavirus pandemic, allowing him to dive back into his new job as manager of the Astros, and there’s appreciation for being unexpectedly close to the people and things he loves the most.
Baker has been reveling in throwing batting practice at his home outside Sacramento, Calif., every day to his son, Darren, a baseball player at the University of California whose future is up in the air. Baker is also tending to his garden and the grapes in his vineyard. He’s been taking food to his elderly mother who’s in an assisted-living facility, and calling via FaceTime with his daughter so he can see his infant grandson, a three-month-old he’s yet to hold.
Through it all, Baker has been reminded repeatedly how good he still has it. He cleaned out his closets and donated lots of clothes to the homeless, which made him pause to think how fortunate he is, even during the darkest of hours.
“We have a lot more than we need,” Baker said Tuesday in an interview with MLB.com. “I find myself looking at the stars and the moon and sunsets, where you would normally take these things for granted, you know what I mean?”
If the stars align and America can begin to put the coronavirus pandemic in the rearview mirror in the summer, Baker will finally get that chance to manage again. At age 70, he was hired just weeks before Spring Training to take over an Astros team in turmoil, a team that a month earlier had fired AJ Hinch after coming within eight outs of winning the World Series.
Still chasing an elusive World Series title as a manager, Baker also has a shot at reaching 2,000 career wins if he manages for two more seasons (he was signed by the Astros to a one-year contract with an option). Baker is 137 wins shy of 2,000. That mark seems more difficult to achieve with every day the season remains postponed.
“Nothing you can do about it,” Baker said. “I just try to not waste time in my own life and try to enjoy my family and try to enjoy the time that we do have. I’ve been working out every day, I’ve lost weight. There’s no excuse to not work out. Now you can’t say you’re too busy, even though I am busy. I’m trying to enjoy life as much as I can.”
Instead of managing the Astros for a scheduled game Tuesday against the D-backs in Arizona, Baker attended the funeral of longtime friend and former Major Leaguer, Bob Oliver, the father of former Major League pitcher Darren Oliver. Bob Oliver was a hitting instructor for more than two decades at Baker’s hitting camp in California and a man looked up to by every all-around athlete in Sacramento.
“He was a guy we all tried to be like here,” he said.
Baker has kept up with his players as much as he can, which includes texts to see what they’re up to. He prefers a phone conversation but knows many players in this era prefer to text. He trusts they are remaining in shape and will be ready to hit the field whenever they get the green light.
“It might be a different kind of baseball, different rosters,” he said. “You don’t know what the location is going to be. We all need baseball.”
Baker wants the safest plan for everybody and says his thoughts during this time are more focused on the vendors, front-office employees, groundskeepers, and fans than anybody else in the game.
The only cure will be a return to normalcy and being able to scratch the baseball itch.
“To itch and not know where to scratch is even worse,” he said.
Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.