Following in dad's footsteps, Baker sets sights on Majors

February 25th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- After Nationals second baseman/outfielder found out in January that he was invited to big league camp, he immediately called his father, legendary manager Dusty Baker.

Dusty told his only son to be himself, and that he is playing the same game that he played in the Minor Leagues. Darren should be all right during Spring Training. He has experience playing with the big boys. Last year on March 17, Darren hit a grand slam against his father’s team, the Astros, in an 11-7 Nationals victory. Dusty taught Darren to stay relaxed in the batter’s box.

On the day caught up with Darren, he was relaxed at the Nationals’ Spring Training facility. There he was working on his swing in the batting cage before playing catch and doing infield drills. He even found time to share a few laughs with his teammates.

“That’s my personality a little bit by nature,” Baker said. “Baseball is fun for me. I do take it seriously as a job. But if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, it means nothing.”

The Nationals already know that Baker takes his job seriously. And manager Dave Martinez loves Baker’s bat to ball skills.

“He always puts the ball in play. He understands how to play the game because his dad was unbelievable,” Martinez said.

Last season, for example, Baker had a slash line of .273/.338/.340 in 99 games at Triple-A Rochester. He ranked third in batting average, fourth in hits, tied for sixth in triples and 10th in on-base percentage, OPS and stolen bases in the Nats’ Minor League system. Entering this season, Baker is the Nationals’ No. 25 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

“[Hitting] has been a skill of mine for a while. I have been blessed [when it comes to hand-eye coordination],” Baker said. “My dad just stressed to put the ball in play. It gives the team an opportunity [to score runs]. Even if I get on by an error, it helps my team.”

Entering the spring, Luis García Jr. is slated to be the Opening Day second baseman, but don’t be surprised to see Baker fight for the position.

“He is here to compete,” Martinez said about Baker. “I said this earlier: Right now, there is opportunity here for all these guys. I want them to come to camp, try to compete and win a job. There is really nothing set in stone. I want these guys to come here and win a job.”

Baker went 1-for-1 in his spring debut on Sunday in the Nationals' 6-3 win over the Marlins at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, with a run scored and a fielding error.

“You see how you stack up against the best," Baker said. "You see it on TV, but I want to see it in the box for a while."

While Baker is trying to make the team out of Spring Training, it’s weird for him not to see his father during camp. Dusty retired as manager of the Astros after they lost to the Rangers in the American League Championship Series last fall. Ever since Darren was selected in the 10th round of the 2021 MLB Draft, the two were roommates during Spring Training because the Nationals and Astros share the same facility -- CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches -- in West Palm Beach.

“This was the time of the year where we bonded together. … He is probably sad about it with a combination of retiring. I definitely miss him,” Baker said. “Me and my dad have an interesting relationship. He is like a best friend to me. I respect him as my father figure. I don’t see him that way. We connect and we share a lot of the same interests. I’m just going to miss seeing him every day after the game. It’s really the stuff away from baseball like fishing that I will miss the most.”