Dusty surprised by son Darren during lineup exchange

Prospect logging game-winning RBI was ‘what a father lives for’

March 20th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- When Astros manager Dusty Baker went to the home plate area prior to Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Nationals, he was surprised and pleased to see a familiar face holding the Nationals’ lineup card. It was his son, Darren, a Minor Leaguer in the Washington organization who was suited up to play against Houston. 

Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who played for Baker while Baker was managing the Giants in 1993-94, had been planning for the moment since the start of Spring Training.

“As you know, I love Dusty,” Martinez said. “It was good to see those two out there together.” 

In order for this to happen -- and remain a surprise -- Darren was called up from Minor League camp for the day less than an hour before first pitch. Then, Martinez informed him of the impending moment, which became even more meaningful when Darren came off the bench and whacked an RBI single and added a sac fly in the Nationals’ 3-2 win over the Astros at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. 

“He hugged me, and I was going to leave and he wanted to give me another hug and the umpire said, ‘No more hugging,’” Dusty said. “It shocked me, but that’s Davey Martinez. He played for me. That was quite an experience, really.”

Darren said playing in a game against the Astros was “the last thing” he expected when he woke up on Sunday morning. He and Dusty had envisioned what it would be like if they faced each other on opposite sides of the field, but the reality of it surpassed all anticipation. 

“I knew it was going to be a special moment,” Darren said. “But when we were hugging at home plate -- I don't know, it’s just a lot of years and things in between that moment.” 

Darren -- taken in the 10th round of last year’s MLB Draft out of Cal -- is living with his father this spring, and both are reveling in the experience. The Astros and Nationals share the same Spring Training facility, and Dusty spent time during Minor League camp peering around fences and columns, trying to get a glimpse of his son across the fields.

He had a front-row seat Sunday to watch Darren, who hit .333 between Rookie and High-A ball last season, continue his ascent in the Minors.

“It was just like a proud father, but you have still the nerves of a father,” Dusty said. “You realize that he’s on the other team, and you realize that he’s a professional now. This is what he’s always wanted to do. He went to school and he was a good student, but I know he was there to play ball, No. 1. I was more proud of him that he graduated in four years from an establishment like Cal. Yeah, I wish my wife would have been here. She was probably following on her phone. This is kind of what a father lives for, to see his son or daughter succeed. It was quite an experience.”

Darren clubbed a first-pitch fastball in his first at-bat in the seventh inning, which Dusty said was right out of the Baker family playbook. But dad was more impressed with the two-strike sacrifice fly to get a run home in the eighth inning.

“You see a lot of young guys taking that first-pitch fastball, and that might be the best pitch to hit,” Dusty said. “I was more impressed with his ability to get that runner in with two strikes. He’s usually pretty good at picking up runners with less than two outs. I harp on it all the time. It cost me.”

The images from Sunday’s game show just how quickly time passes, especially in the development of baseball playing careers. The lineup exchange at home plate in Spring Training of 2022 is a stark contrast to the iconic image of a then-Giants bat boy Darren being swept off the field at home plate by J.T. Snow in the 2002 World Series.

“Just to think about 2002 to now,” Darren said. “My dad’s had a couple health scares in between there; he didn’t know if he was going to be in baseball. Then the COVID Draft when I was a junior. I don’t know, just to have a moment like today is awesome.”

Last week, Dusty said living with his son has been a “cool” experience. Darren was looking forward to the conversation they will have when he walks in the door.

“I can’t wait to get home, actually, and talk to my dad and be like, ‘Hey, how’d the game go?’” Darren said. “We obviously want to win. That’s what we talk about a lot here, setting that standard. It feels good.”

Dusty usually picks up dinner for Darren, but his son still has to do the chores. Dusty Baker, after all, is the son of the late Johnnie B. Baker Sr., a disciplinarian who demanded his son pull his weight around the house.

“I said, ‘Hey man, I’m clean,’” Dusty said. “You got to take out the garbage sometimes. Not all the time. We split it. That’s what roommates do. No dishes in the sink like you used to have in college. This ain’t a college house. This ain’t Animal House. This is my house.”

There were no dishes at the house on Sunday night. Dusty said he planned to take Darren to dinner.

“Yeah,” he said smiling. “I’m buying.”