Dusty Baker's Major League Baseball career, which has spanned six decades, all began in September of 1968 when he debuted as a 19-year-old with the Braves. That was in Atlanta, which is exactly where Baker's career as the manager of the Washington Nationals will start on Monday.
The Nationals travel to Atlanta to play the Braves on Opening Day 2016. Baker and the Braves played in Atlanta Stadium back in 1968. Now it's Turner Field they call home, but there is still plenty of significance for the 66-year-old skipper.
"That’s where I started," Baker reminisced on Friday. "Every time I go back to Atlanta, there are some childhood memories - I was a teenager when I was there. It brings back very pleasant memories."
Baker played eight seasons with the Braves before moving on to the Dodgers in a 1975 trade. He has returned countless times over the years, noticing incremental change in the city and in his friends who live there.
"It shows you life is grand and life goes on," he said. "It also lets me know how old I am because some of the kids now are married and some of them are grandfathers."
Many things have changed in Atlanta, but there are a few restaurants Baker always likes to visit when he goes back. He wouldn't specify where he plans to go, but did talk about the meal he may have on the team's off-day on Tuesday.
"I used to go when I was playing and get a home run hamhock because every time they’d give me a hamhock I’d hit a home run," he said.
The tradition took on a new life when Baker was with the Dodgers and came back to Atlanta.
"They would joke that they’re not going to give me a home run hammock [anymore]. Then Pedro Guerrero wanted some, then Kenny Landreaux wanted some. Steve Howe and Bobby Welch wanted some shutout and save pork chops or something. It got to be kind of a ritual."
Baker also told a story this weekend about his time with the Dodgers that is definitely worth sharing:
"When I went from the Braves to the Dodgers it was heaven for me because I gained about 40 games in the standings. Plus, that's who I wanted to play for most of my life. I tried to do the best I could to punish my former team. There were guys on the Dodgers that I had come up playing against that I really didn't like and some of them didn't like me. But then a funny thing happens. When you get to be a teammate with a guy, you see a totally different guy than you saw across the field. Like Bill Buckner for me, I didn't like Bill Buckner and he didn't like me. We were always rivals for batting titles in the instructional league and different things. I used to say 'if we're going to have a fight then you leave Bill Buckner for me.' Then when I got to the Dodgers we were neighbors. We ended up running to the park together, going hunting together and we're still partners now. Certainly he was a different guy and so was I once we became teammates."