02/01/2021 5:51 AM
Darren Baker (Brewster '18 Wareham '19) SportsPix Photo
Article By: Taylor Viles
Growing up on a major league diamond is a fantasy for young baseball fans. Being able to interact with major league players and marvel at the immensity of a professional ballpark from the field is a picture only existing in their dreams.
For Darren Baker, he never knew that fantasy because he was thrust into its reality at only a few years old. He was the “bat boy” for the San Francisco Giants at only three-year-old as his father, Dusty was the teams’ manager.
Dusty Baker had a long career as a major leaguer that continued into a longer career as a manager and coach. Dusty’s relationship with the game gave Darren his first taste of the sport he would soon fall in love with, but Darren has made it clear that despite Dusty’s and his great relationship, he is playing for himself and no one else.
Darren has been working on escaping Dusty’s shadow his whole life, but also explains it doesn’t bother him nearly as much anymore. “Growing up, it kind of got to me a little more, just because I wasn't as mature as a baseball player in general,” he said. “But I'd say now I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin. Just playing in the summer and doing things on my own kind of helped separate it. I love my dad, and I'm really grateful for everything he's given to me, but I am my own person.”
Coming to Cape Cod was one way to make his own name and the younger Baker took full advantage of the opportunity. Like many talented Cape League players, he was signed as a temporary player during his first summer. The Brewster Whitecaps gave Baker the first chance to perform in front of scouts, but the rising sophomore only managed a .222 average over seven games in late July.
“My first summer, I didn't play as well as I wanted. I was a little overwhelmed,” said Baker. “But going back the second time, I kind of knew how things worked. And I felt more comfortable.”
Brewster opted to not have Baker back the following summer allowing Wareham the chance to sign him for 2019. Coming off his best college season hitting .306 with 34 runs scored as the California Golden Bears leadoff hitter, Baker hit .342 in 30 games with the Gatemen. It is the highest average he’s owned since high school and on potentially the most important stage of his career, thus far.
“Playing against other guys at such a high-level, forces you to elevate your game,” said Baker. “I mean, Matt McLain will probably be a top-five pick, he was on my team during that summer and just watching how he goes about his business… Iron sharpens iron.”
McLain was drafted in the first round by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2018 but chose college instead. He is eligible to be drafted in the 2021 MLB draft.
Among the many highlights from his 2019 summer on Cape Cod Baker pinpointed, his father, traveling to take in some games was one of them. “You know, the flight from California isn't the quickest to get there so it shows how much he really cares about me,” he said. He's always supported me since day one and really never forced me to play. I mean, that's my base role model and it meant the world for him to come watch.” It was Dusty’s first time on Cape Cod.
Although Dusty provided his son the opportunity to grow up in the midst of major league baseball, Darren had never been to Fenway Park. He was able to visit the legendary ballpark during Wareham’s workout midsummer and says, “it was pretty special.”
Baker’s stellar play in the batter's box and in the infield led him to an all-star selection in 2019. Making the all-star team, he says, was his proudest moment on the Cape. During Baker’s sole at-bat in the game, he broke the bat he had used in a game on Cape Cod all summer. (He splintered a bat at the beginning of the summer during batting practice.) It turned out to be his last swing in a Cape League uniform as shortly after he was released due to returning to California for a required college class.
Baker added to his resume and draft stock in the spring of 2020 by hitting .286 at Cal Berkeley. If he was to be drafted in June, he put himself in the best position possible.
“I woke up on draft day and I thought, ‘this is the day that I've been waiting for since I was, you know, two years old,’” Baker recalled. “I was talking to my advisor [and] we felt like it was more than likely it would happen.”
Only he wasn’t drafted.
Baker continued, “especially [last] year with the five rounds, you never know. And you know, it's kind of just the way the chips fell.”
Baker is no stranger to being left behind, he explained. “I was the last player selected on my area-code team. [After] I played temp for Brewster they didn't want me back the next summer. So you know, I kind of use all those little things and it makes it a little easier to work a little harder.”
COVID-19 kept fall baseball activities from happening in 2020, but after keeping his fingers crossed, the spring schedule was recently announced and it’s the full number of games. Baker now has an opportunity to prove himself again to the MLB during his senior season.
Even though he missed out on last year’s draft chance, Baker is staying the course and is confident in himself. “Through the ups and downs, I really believe in myself because I know I’ve put the work in,” he said. “I know I'm prepared and usually good things happen when you put in the time and effort.”