'Dinner on me tonight': Darren Baker hits grand slam vs. Dusty's Astros

March 17th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Dusty Baker was hoping for a sacrifice fly, maybe an RBI single. Darren Baker just wanted to put the bat on the ball and keep a bases-loaded rally going. Neither could have foreseen what came next.

Darren, the 24-year-old Minor Leaguer and son of legendary manager Dusty, smacked a game-tying grand slam in the ninth inning of the Nationals’ 11-7 comeback win over the Astros on Friday. Known for plenty of other things, but rarely power, the younger Baker had three previous professional home runs and four in all of his competitive career post-high school.

Now, it’s five. And it's likely that this was the most memorable one -- his first with a big league team, with his dad in the opposite dugout and his mom in the stands.

“It was unbelievable,” Darren said. “I don’t know when I’ve been mobbed like that in the dugout. Jeter [Downs] was yelling at me. He was in front of me at second base. I don’t know, it was just like an out-of-body type of experience.”

Dusty didn’t get this far by enjoying losing games. But this one will certainly sit better than most defeats.

“I knew he was going to make contact,” said the elder Baker, “because he doesn’t strike out. But when the ball went up, I was just hoping it would be a sacrifice fly and be happy with that. He'd get the RBI, and we’d get the win. But he hit it pretty good. He had a couple good at-bats. I didn’t know whether to be a proud papa or an angry papa.”

It wasn’t the first meeting between father and son, nor was it the first time Darren had success against his dad’s team. Houston and Washington share a Spring Training complex, and Darren and Dusty share a home in the spring. A year ago, Darren came out to exchange lineup cards with his dad for a game, but his mom, Melissa, was not present.

So they did it again on Friday, with mom in the stands this time.

“He thought he was going to play today,” said Dusty. “But he didn’t know when he was going to get in. [Nationals coach Tim] Bogar gave me the wave, and then my son gave me the wave that he was taking the lineup card out.”

And Darren, who finished last season in Double-A Harrisburg, made the most of the day. He started with a single in the eighth. Then he went deep in the ninth.

Whether he was overcome with emotion, annoyed or a little of both, Dusty couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact with his son in the moment.

“He didn’t want to look at me,” Darren said with a smile. “He didn’t want to speak to me after the game. So I had to run down the third-base line and he said he’ll call me later or talk to me later.”

The young Baker had some fun with it, too, taking to Twitter shortly after with a playful message to his dad.

“Dinner on me tonight pops,” Darren wrote.

Make no mistake, though, Dusty loves watching his son succeed. And he treasures sharing a field with him.

He just might have preferred it all happen in a win.

“After he got the first hit, home-plate umpire Ron Kulpa said, ‘See how easy that is?’” Dusty said. “Well, he made it look easy.

“I love my son, but I hate to lose.”