How Darren Baker went from Giants bat boy to MLB draft prospect at Cal

Rob Edwards/KLC Fotos

How Darren Baker went from Giants bat boy to MLB draft prospect at Cal

BERKELEY -- Not too many people find themselves in the spotlight at just three years old. On baseball's brightest stage, that's exactly what happened to Darren Baker in Game 5 of the 2002 World Series. 

The image forever will be ingrained into Giants fans' minds. J.T. Snow, with David Bell running behind him, swooped up Darren at home plate after scoring on a Kenny Lofton triple to give San Francisco a 10-4 lead over the Anaheim Angels.

Darren, of course, was the team's bat boy and the toddler son of then-Giants manager Dusty Baker.

Soon after the '02 World Series, MLB changed its rules to make a 14-year-old age requirement for bat boys. While the world knew Darren after that famous moment, it was then that he started becoming "Dusty Baker's son." It's a title that he's proud of, while also trying to make a name for himself altogether. 

Darren is incredibly close with his father. When news broke that Dusty would take over as the Houston Astros' manager this season to restore respect to the franchise, Darren tweeted the perfect GIF to show his admiration. 

As he enters his junior year as Cal Berkeley's starting second baseman, Darren is juggling the act of being more than the son of a famous baseball player and manager while also never letting the outside noise put a crack in his unbreakable bond with his dad. Darren credits both his father and mother, Melissa, for making him the man he is today at 21 years old. 

"They never speak about me having to be my dad," Darren recently said to NBC Sports Bay Area before a practice at Evans Diamond. "If I didn’t want to play baseball, I wouldn’t have to. They let me become my own person. My dad focuses on saying my name when questions are asked.

"I just got the best parents in the world." 

From bat boy to MLB draft prospect 

(Darren Baker hit .306 and stole 21 bases as a sophomore for Cal. Photo via Tyler Tate/AP)

While Dusty is back in baseball, a huge summer for Darren has his name climbing up boards for this June's MLB Draft. Baker hit .347 with 12 stolen bases for the Wareham Gateman in the Cape Cod Baseball League -- the most prestigious summer league for college baseball players -- and was named an All-Star.

When asked about his improvements over the summer, Baker didn't hesitate at all.

"I give the credit to Coach (Jerry) Weinstein," Baker said, praising his summer league coach. "He kind of beat it in my head until I didn’t want to hear it anymore about never taking at-bats off, never taking plays off. If you kind of give away one at-bat a game, it really adds up at the end of the year. That’s something that I’ll really keep with me forever."

Mike Neu, Baker's coach at Cal, has noticed plenty of improvements as well. Darren was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team as a sophomore, and Neu calls Baker one of the best defenders in the country. But it's on offense that Neu really has seen his second baseman continue to make strides. 

Baker started 42 games as a freshman and hit .273 with five stolen bases. Last season, he took a major leap by batting .306 and was a perfect 21-for-21 on stolen base attempts. With Baker figuring to bat at the top of Cal's lineup, Neu says the junior is focused on laying off balls outside of the strike zone and seeing more pitches this year.

Growing with the Golden Bears

(Darren Baker was named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team as a sophomore. Photo via Rob Edwards/KLC Fotos)

With each challenge so far, Baker has responded with glowing reviews.

"I think he’s just continued to gain confidence each year and then just learn -- just learn how to compete at this level," Neu said. "He’s really competitive, so when he figures out what he needs to do to be successful, he works on it and he’s done that every year."

With growth and two college seasons under his belt, Baker has matured on and off the field. That includes in the weight room, too. Now listed at 175 pounds, Baker says he has gained 30 to 35 pounds since he stepped foot on Cal's campus. 

It took plenty of hard work for the skinny second baseman to add weight, and it's clear he has gone from scrawny to strong while working on his body all year round. 

"I feel like finally all the years of staying extra time and eating meals until I’m not even hungry anymore is starting to pay off," Baker said. 

"I think he’s just gotten stronger," Neu added. "He’s matured. He’s always had a good swing, but now he’s a little bit more physical. I think he’s just a more well-rounded offensive guy where he drives the ball to the gaps a little more."

Despite his added strength, Baker doesn't feel he needs to change his game when Cal's season starts Friday at Long Beach State. He'll continue to be a contact-first hitter, spray the gaps and even use his speed on drag bunts. The power eventually will come, just like it did for his father. Dusty was built very similar to Darren growing up and wound up hitting 242 homers over his 19-year MLB career. 

Unlimited baseball knowledge

(Darren Baker uses lessons on and off the field from his father and baseball mentors. Photo via Jeff Chiu/AP)

One aspect of Baker's game that continues to evolve at Cal is his leadership. He doesn't need to be the loudest voice in the room, but Neu knows exactly what he's getting from Darren every single day. The Golden Bears follow his lead. 

"He’s a big-time leader," Neu said. "Obviously his playing experience here, his background with who he’s learned from -- not just his dad but the big leaguers he’s been around, I mean it just automatically gives him so much of a foundation for him and for our whole team. He’s a leader and he’s been great in that role. He comes to work every day, he knows what he needs to work on.

"His understanding of the game is way ahead of most guys at this level, just because of what he’s seen and what he’s been around. When he gets on the bases or when he plays defense, he’s just thinking steps ahead that most guys wouldn’t at this level."

That natural baseball knowledge comes from years of being a fly on the wall, or better put, a fly on dugout walls. Baker still frequently talks with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, who Dusty coached on the Cincinnati Reds, and even flew out to Atlanta to work out with former Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips for two weeks. Darren calls these relationships "bigger than baseball," as he talks about way more than the game with his mentors. 

The man who has played the biggest role in his baseball career, however, will be watching from afar. This isn't anything new for Darren and Dusty, though. These past two seasons at Cal were the first in 16 years where Dusty was able to consistently watch Darren’s games. While they nearly are 50 years apart, father and son often find themselves on the same page after games. 

“A lot of the times, honestly, we find that we call each other at the same time,” Darren said. “The phone will be ringing as I call and I’ll see a notification pop up. … It won’t be anything new, but I’m definitely going to miss him for sure.” 

Before he dials Dusty’s number, though Darren feels he’s going into his junior season on the “most prepared team” he has played on. Led by Andrew Vaughn, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Cal made its first Regional since 2015 last year. But Baker has even bigger goals on what likely will be his last ride with the Golden Bears before he hears his own name is called early in this year’s draft. 

At Dusty’s introductory press conference for the Astros, he referenced a Too Short lyric and said, “This is my last album.” For Darren, his album is just beginning.

Dallas Braden, Joba Chamberlain, others share unique mound-visit tales

Dallas Braden, Joba Chamberlain, others share unique mound-visit tales

The pitcher covers his mouth as he and the catcher exchange words during a mound visit.

What are they talking about? 

Maybe the pitching coach or the manager has a word to say as well. He too, probably is covering his mouth with his bare hand. Maybe the ball gets handed off after the guy in the bullpen gets hot.

Who knows?

The mound meeting has always been something that has intrigued me. I haven't experienced one personally in a while, but sometimes, baseball or softball wasn't the only thing we discussed.

I wanted to round up current/former MLB players and managers to see if they wanted to share any memorable mound meeting stories.

I was not disappointed. 

Dallas Braden, A's pitcher (2007-11)

“My first start in Double-A -- I had given up a hit and I go to pick the guy off, and they call a balk,” Braden said. “Well, this is my first start in Double-A OK, and I’ve been with this team for less than 24 hours -- I’ve known my pitching coach (Jim Coffman) aside from meeting him in spring training -- I’ve known him for ya know -- 45 minutes, an hour -- and he comes out there and he was like ‘Hey, you’re doing fine, we’re so glad to have you, congratulations, everything’s been great. I’m just going to have a word with this guy [the umpire] once he comes over here.’”

“Then obviously by that time, the umpire had made his way over to us and [Coffman] lost his s--t on him about the balk call and just lost it -- and then got kicked out of the game, was gone and there I was just on my own -- just like all right,” he laughed. “He was just like ‘Hey, go get ‘em,’ and that was that -- that was it.”

Joba Chamberlain: Pitcher (2007-16)

"When Lance Berkman came over [to the Yankees], he was really good friends with Andy Pettite so we hung out, I got to know him pretty good and he was playing first base and I come in the game and -- I don't even know who we're playing or whatever -- but, things got going kind of fast, they got to bat. The dude hits a double right? I blatantly know he hits a double. So I get on the mound, don't even check second, I look over to check first and see somebody standing there, and I step off and throw it to first ... and I lawn-dart it straight into the ground."

"Cuz as I turn I realize there's nobody over there," Chamberlain laughed. "So then I try to play it off I'm like 'Oh man, what happened?'"

"I get back on the mound and Lance comes over, put on his hands on his hips and he goes, 'Dude, are you OK?'"

"I was like 'I thought there was somebody on first,' He goes, 'No, that was me, idiot. Are you sure you're OK?'"

"I was like 'Yeah, I'm good, I'm good -- We'll get through this.'"

Clint Hurdle: Manager, 17 seasons

"I won't tell you the pitcher's name -- I just, I can't, but it's one of the best ones ever."

"It would have been in September -- it would have been earlier in my managerial career with Colorado, we were shedding payroll, we were going through a rebuild, so we were a little light on the roster, and our September call-ups were not really in a position to fortify us much based on where we were in the standings."

"We got to a point where we actually go get some more pitching, well we actually had to make another call."

During a game at Coors Field, the Rockies were down early.

"Ten runs of separation," Hurdle said. "We're fighting our way back and it's one of those games where you have to use pitchers and so eventually you get to the point where someone just has to pitch some innings."

"I know you've heard the term: Someone's gotta eat up some innings when the games out of hand. So, one of these guys we had called up, bless his heart, good kid, was looking for an opportunity ... we're down a bunch now, we call down to the bullpen and I tell the bullpen coach 'Hey, get so-and-so up, we're going to get him in, we're going to need some length out of him, he's got to give us some innings."

Understandable. The pitcher goes into the game.

"The first inning he pitches, they hit for the cycle -- and this was like within the first five of six batters -- it's not even a separation of score, we're getting slaughtered, we're getting beat up. The poor kid's getting beat up, however, he gets through the inning, he gives up -- gosh I want to say six, seven runs."

They send him back out in the next inning.

"You know, we got to fight another day, maybe tomorrow will be a better place."

... and almost the same thing happened.

"He gets to the point where I have to get somebody else up, not a position player yet, but it's another guy that we really didn't want to use."

"I come walking out and I can see him -- he felt bad, he was supposed to give us three innings -- wanted to give us three and he's got like 1 1/3 innings in -- and there's close to multiple runs score on him, and he's already thrown 35 - 40 pitches, it's been a really rough outing."

Hurdle told him it was time to make a move, he needed to get him out of there. But he was relentless.

"He goes 'Clint, I know, I know -- I just need to get them in, I don't care about my numbers,' I mean -- it was an awesome conversation," Hurdle added.

The pitcher made it clear he just wanted to be there for the team. He wanted to keep pitching, he didn't care what his Baseball-Reference page would say.

"Don't worry about me," the pitcher kept saying.

"I said, 'Hey buddy, c'mon we're going to have a laugh,' I said, 'I'm not worried about you, I said, 'Turn around.'"

He did just that.

"All three outfielders were bent over with their hands on their knees breathing like they had just run 50 wind sprints. I said it's either take you out or put in three new outfielders -- which one do you think I should do?'"

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Geoff Blum: Infielder, (1999 - 2012)

Story No. 1:

"Usually when I'm on a broadcast I try not to name names, but usually a lot of fans that know my career and know this particular individual know I'm always talking about Doug Brocail because he was one of the more eccentric, more vocal pitchers I was ever around and we played together in San Diego and Houston, so we're around each other quite a bit." 

"I got along with him greatly, but I just remember there was a particular spring training when we got done with our time in San Diego and we signed with Houston, 2008 and we're in spring training in Kissimmee, Fla., and usually the wind there would just be howling out from home plate towards center field, and Doug comes in from the bullpen to get his work in, you know -- guaranteed contract, going to be on the team, nothing to worry about, and I think the second pitch he throws goes over the batting eye -- it's not even close, he kind of looks up like, 'Wow, ball's carrying today.'"

"He proceeds to give up a double, triple, double and another double and finally, I'm throwing the ball back to him, as I walk to the mound I'm like, 'Doug, just not your day, just kind of casually saying 'It's spring training, don't worry about it kind of thing ... '"

"He goes, 'Are you kidding me? Are you seeing what's going on here?' And he gets to the top of the mound, turns around and screams at the outfield at the top of his lungs: 'Back the eff up!'"

"I'm like Doug, Doug you can't do that," Blum added. "He goes, 'You don't know what's happening.' He just starts screaming 'Back the eff up!'"

Brocail then proceeds to give up a home run.

"I go, 'They're not playing deep enough,' and he just kind of yells at me and walks off the mound."

Story No. 2:

"I'm not sure if he was on the mound for this, but there was a veteran pitcher during that season also and J.R. Towles was our catcher and J.R. wasn't one of the more brilliant catchers that I ever got to play with, we got spoiled working with Brad Ausmus for so long."

"And then we had J.R. had a tough time with signs and there was a veteran pitcher on the mound and we had a runner on second base and J.R. comes out to reassure the pitcher about the signs. I was playing I think shortstop at the time, so I come in to make sure we're all on the same page. J.R. gives the first sign after two, everyone shakes their head and goes, 'Yep -- that's it!'"

"He proceeds to go back behind home plate and sit there for about 30 seconds staring at the pitcher and we're all kind of like, 'What's going on?' Then finally J.R. raises his hand to the home plate umpire and runs back out to the mound and goes, 'Hey man, what are the signs again?' And this veteran pitcher to just absolutely verbally undress him in the middle of the game. The entire stadium could hear what he was saying goes, 'ONE IS FASTBALL, TWO IS CURVEBALL, THREE IS SPLIT, GET THE EFF BEHIND THE PLATE!' and J.R. proceeds to go back there with a runner at second base. We literally went one sign -- we didn't disguise it at all, we were just trying to make sure J.R. knew which pitch was coming so he wouldn't get hurt."

Story No. 3 (the best one): 

"When I was in San Diego playing with Greg Maddux -- and he did this to me several times when I was playing third base. We'd throw the ball around and give the ball back to him and he would kind of give me the finger wave to 'come here, I got something to say,' and he'd go, 'Be ready, this hitter's going to hit you a ground ball,' I said, 'Damn, all right,' I got back over there, sure enough, 2-1 count, fourth pitch of the at-bat, it's a nice, easy two-hopper and I throw it over to first for the out."

Blum was impressed.

"[Maddux] goes, 'Yeah, we'll be doing that a lot this year.'"

"Later on, I go back out to the mound to give him the ball, and he goes, 'Hey, come here -- he literally said, 'Third pitch is going to be a line drive right at you,' and I remember Carlos Lee was hitting for the Milwaukee Brewers and third pitch, he kind of gives me a wink and a nod after he throws the second pitch and sure enough, that third pitch comes in and I think Carlos Lee hit the hardest line drive I've ever caught in my life, right at me, right at my chest and I caught it, just kind of gave that Hall of Fame head nod right back at him."

Jered Weaver: Pitcher (2006-17)

"The only one that sticks out was when I finally talked Mike [Scioscia] into staying in. He was known for not letting his pitchers talk him into staying in, but when I finally did, I knew I finally got his trust. It was like a 2-0 game with a runner on first and second I think ... was able to get a strikeout and a pop-out to get out of it."

Peter Moylan: Pitcher (2006-13, 2015-18)

“I hugged my manager once.”

Evan Marshall: Pitcher, Chicago White Sox

"This was last year. The last series of the year against the Tigers. I'm pitching in like a one-run ballgame, maybe a two-run ballgame. I gave up a double with two outs and in order to that point, it had taken me like 11 pitches to get each hitter out, so my pitch count was climbing and I know Aaron Bummer was in the pen getting hot, and he's like the best left-hand reliever in the game, so you know I get into hot water, I know what's going to happen ..." 

"I gave up a double, and there's a base opened and I got a lefty on deck and I've got a guy up and it's strike one, foul ball, something ... then I end up in a 3-2 count and thrown like 34 pitches and I throw this guy everything that I possibly have that should get a switch hitter out -- he's a left-hander. And changeups, and fastballs in, and two-seamers down and away. He's just foul ball, foul ball, foul ball ... I'm getting tired out there and [James] McCann -- runs out, well -- trots out, if you will, and we have a convo and he's just like, 'Look, man, we've kind of just tried it all, he's kind of seen all your s--t and what do you think? I think this is probably the last pitch, you got a lefty on deck, you got a great lefty that's been throwing in the bullpen out there so this is your last guy -- how do you want to get him?'"

"I was like, 'I don't know, I've kind of tried everything and he doesn't seem to be fooled by it.' And he was like, 'Well, the only thing he hasn't seen is the pitch that you only throw, ya know -- 10 percent of the time, let's try the backdoor curveball, let's see what happens.'"

"And I threw it, and it was perfect, and he stuck it and I fist-pumped bigger than I have the whole year for backdoor strike three."

Brad Ziegler: Pitcher (2008-18)

Speaking of Evan Marshall ... 

"Weirdest thing for me was a non-meeting. Let me explain ... "

"Evan Marshall hit Ryan Braun with a pitch to load the bases. Umpire ruled it intentional and immediately through Marsh out of the game. This is the one that Kirk Gibson “famously” high-fived Marsh as he was leaving the field.

Well, they called down to the bullpen and told me I was coming in the game. Usually, when you get to the mound, the manager hands you the ball and makes sure you are aware of the game situation (runners on, number of outs, etc). 

I went to the mound, and there was no manager there to hand me the ball. Instead, it was the catcher, so immediately it felt weird. Then Ted Barrett (plate ump that night) walks out to tell me 'that both benches had been warned. I said “Teddy, the bases are loaded and I throw 85 underhand. I don’t think they’re gonna have me hit anyone on purpose here.”

So I had to do my full warmup on the game mound (about the worst thing a reliever ever has to do in a game), since I hadn’t been throwing in the pen and Marsh had been ejected. Well, first pitch I throw, Jonathan Lucroy hits it out to CF for a grand slam. We lose the game. I should’ve just hit him and taken my ejection."

[RELATED: Why A's play "Celebration" after home wins]

Cameron Rupp: Catcher, Cleveland Indians

"One of my favorite ones was back in 2014 (with the Phillies). It was my first real season in the big leagues, and we were in Milwaukee -- Cole Hamels was pitching and Ryne Sandberg is our manager at the time and he puts a pickoff on, it's 3-2, and there's a man on first base and he's left-handed. So I give Cole the pickoff and he shakes right? I put it down again and steps off so I look back into the dugout and they give me the pickoff again and I kind of put my hands up and I'm like, 'He said no.'"

"They put on again, so I put it down and ya know, this is Cole Hamels, World Series MVP like I'm just the rookie giving the sign and so they were like, 'Well hey, go talk to him,' and I shook my head and I was like 'YOU go talk to him --  I don't know what to tell him other you're putting the sign down.'" 

"Chase Utley had come in to be like 'Hey, what's going on guys?' And I said 'They're giving me the pickoff sign and he doesn't want to do it, but they keep giving it to me, and finally they came out and Cole just told the pitching coach like, 'I'm not picking over,' and that was the end of it, and the guy didn't even end up running, but we wasted five minutes of the game."

Bonus: Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow, Duane Kuiper

Kruk and Kuip had a "special" form of communication when Kruk would get heated on the mound, as they revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Amy Gutierrez.

It doesn't get much better than that.

MLB mock draft 2020: Tyler Soderstrom top Giants candidate at No. 13

MLB mock draft 2020: Tyler Soderstrom top Giants candidate at No. 13

As the calendar flips and we somehow have entered June, the 2020 MLB Draft now is less than two weeks away. Before we know it, high school and college players will hear their names called in this shortened five-round draft. 

The Giants are on the clock with the No. 13 overall pick, and have seven picks in five rounds. Through his first two years as San Francisco's president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi has gone with college bats in the first round. After taking Joey Bart No. 2 in 2018 and Hunter Bishop No. 10 in 2019, could be looking at a different route this year. 

With seasons cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, teams could go college heavy at the top of the draft and trust previous scouting reports. Sitting in the top half of the first round, the Giants find themselves in an interesting spot. Will they go college or high school? Hitter or pitcher?

We looked at five recent mock drafts from expert outlets. Tyler Soderstrom of Turlock High School was the choice for the Giants in three out of five mock drafts. Let's look at Soderstrom, the two others mocked to San Francisco and who else is connected to the Giants.

Tyler Soderstrom, C, Turlock High School

First things first, don't pay too much attention to Soderstrom's position. For one, he's being drafted because of bat. And second, Soderstrom also split time at third base and has the atleticism to play a corner outfield spot. 

The bat can be special. He has a powerful left-handed swing that projects to play at the next level. The prep star also has plenty of experience with a wood bat, playing for Team USA and throughout the showcase circuit. 

Prior to the high school season being shut down, Soderstrom was hitting .357 as a senior. In 28 games as a junior, he hit .450 with four homers and 12 doubles. It also isn't too surprising that he posted a video of himself taking ground balls at third base on Sunday. 

Zaidi values position flexibility and Soderstrom certainly fits the bill with a lot of upside at the plate. Soderstrom was mocked to the Giants in ESPN, The Athletic and Baseball America's most recent mock drafts. 

Soderstrom already has a connection to the Giants, too. His father, Steve, was selected by the Giants with the No. 6 pick in the 1993 draft.

Ed Howard, SS, Mount Carmel High School

Scouts will have to rely on their previous reports on Howard before the draft. His high school season never got off the ground this year and the team only practiced a few times before the pandemic. 

FanGraphs has the Giants taking Howard, which is higher than any of the other major outlets. He hit well over the summer and has an impressive high school track record before canceled senior year. Howard hit .396 with six homers, 20 doubles and 16 stolen bases between his sophomore and junior seasons.

Howard is seen as the top high school shortstop and it always makes sense to draft up the middle and bet on the development of a great athlete.

[GIANTS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Cade Cavalli, RHP, Oklahoma

The Giants last took a pitcher in the first round when they added Tyler Beede in 2014 and then Phil Bickford in 2015.'s Jim Callis has them going back to that thinking by picking Cavalli out of Oklahoma. 

Cavalli, 6-4 and 218 pounds, pitched in four games before the season came to an end. The big right-hander has a plus fastball and slider, and went 1-2 with a 4.18 ERA this year. He had a 3.28 ERA over 12 starts as a sophomore. 

Cavalli also is a Team USA alum and former two-way player. His control improved this year as he focused solely on pitching.

[RELATED: Could Luciano make Giants' roster? Zaidi considering that]

The others

The Giants also have been connected to high school pitchers Mick Abel and Nick Bitsko, both whom are hard-throwing righties. Garrett Crochet out of Tennessee, who can hit 100 mph, could be in play as well. 

If the Giants are looking for a toolsy outfielder like Bishop, Garrett Mitchell of UCLA fits the bill. 

It's never easy honing in on who are the top targets for teams in the MLB draft, especially at No. 13. The closer we get, however, the better the consensus should be.