Among Darren Baker’s most prized possessions is an autographed photo of him sitting next to star pitcher Max Scherzer in the Nationals’ dugout, a memento from his dad’s two-year stint as the skipper of Washington’s baseball club.
Darren was raised in and around MLB clubhouses as his father, Dusty Baker, built a Hall of Fame-caliber managerial career. He was 14 when the Nationals hired Dusty ahead of the 2016 season and Darren spent those two years growing an attachment to the D.C. area. Half a decade later, he has the chance to make it back.
The Nationals selected Darren in the 10th round of the 2021 MLB Draft this summer and signed him for his slot value of $146,800. It was their second attempt to snatch up the left-handed hitting infielder, who opted to attend Cal Berkeley in 2017 rather than sign with Washington after the team drafted him with its 27th-round pick.
“I think he’s in a great spot, great organization that’s known him for a while and seen his progress, seen him grow,” Dusty, now manager of the Houston Astros, told NBC Sports Washington. “He really liked Washington, D.C., a lot while he was there so I talk to him daily, trying not to put too much pressure on him, just telling him to be himself and just play.”
Darren joins the Nationals after a senior season with the Golden Bears that saw him lead the team with a .327 batting average and 28 stolen bases. His power is still yet to be developed, so he relies on his contact skills and speed to get on base. However, it’s his defense where Darren takes the most pride in his game.
“It’s something that my coaches in college and my dad really emphasized to me,” Darren said in a phone interview. “You’re not gonna feel great every day in the box or the ball is not gonna fall for you every day, but you play defense all the time and it’s just something that I take pride in — helping our pitchers, and I like taking hits away.”
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As a second baseman, Darren has forged his own identity on the baseball field that’s separate from that of his All-Star outfielder father. Dusty never pushed the outfield on his son, in fact encouraging him to stick in the infield because in the professional ranks transitioning to the grass is “a whole lot easier than coming from the outfield to the dirt.”
That’s just a snippet of the advice Darren has received from his father over the years that most young ballplayers don’t get from their dads. It’s helped him develop into a mature player both on the field and in the clubhouse, something that’s already struck his manager Mario Lisson at Low-A Fredericksburg.
“The one thing that’s really stood out to me right now [is] how comfortable he looks,” Lisson said. “Obviously, being in a clubhouse, being around, you can see it’s like he’s been a professional player forever. He looks comfortable and he seems like he can get along with the guys pretty good.”
Last summer, with Darren’s junior season at Cal and Dusty’s first campaign with the Astros both on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, the pair spent the “most time we had spent together in a really long time” at their home in Sacramento. They fished, they worked on Darren’s approach at the plate and they caught up on years’ worth of conversations that had been interrupted because of the consuming life of an MLB manager.
Darren is out to make his own mark with the Nationals as he begins his professional career. That may be a tough task given Dusty’s history with the club, but Darren isn’t going to complain when he has his father as a sounding board for both baseball and life.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t be here…without the help of my dad [and] a bunch of people who he’s introduced me to,” Darren said. “But at the end of the day for me, he’s just dad. I love him with everything I have. I go to him for advice, baseball stuff, but our relationship is a lot deeper.”