Ten years after Darren Baker nearly got run over at home plate when he wandered into the World Series action, he’s still not old enough to be a bat boy.
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The 13 1/2-year-old son of Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker is just fine with that, because these days he’s a second baseman who appreciates watching the games to learn. He does plan to be bat boy for a few games in 2013 after turning the required 14 on Feb. 11.
”It was smart, because I was so young and maybe if another kid is young, he doesn’t know what to do compared to an older kid who kind of understands more,” Baker said Saturday, sitting in the dugout taking in the quiet scene some five hours before first pitch between the Reds and Giants in their playoff opener. ”Just parts of it, I remember a little bit of it when I got picked up at home plate. I remember Game 7 of the World Series. That’s it. It went by so fast.”
On a sunny October afternoon, Baker hopped around the dugout alone, leaned over the dugout rail and soaked in the atmosphere. Yes, he said, he misses it here, even if the memories have faded some. He ran inside to the clubhouse at one point to grab his camera, then returned to snap a photo of the Blue Angels flying overhead for fleet week festivities.
Baker rooted for Washington to win on the season’s final day so the NL Central champion Reds would be the NL’s No. 2 seed behind the East-winning Nationals and open the best-of-five playoffs at San Francisco. His dad managed the Giants from 1993-02.
It was here in October ’02 when the then-toddler ran out to retrieve the bat of his favorite player, Kenny Lofton, in Game 5 of the World Series against the wild-card Angels. With David Bell charging home, San Francisco’s J.T. Snow quickly scooped up the boy and kept him out of harm’s way. After that, the ”Darren Baker Rule,” as it became known, was established to require that bat boys be at least 14 years old.
”It was for the best because I like watching the game more. It was fun bat-boying, but I’d rather learn and watch the game,” Baker said. ”I might do it once or twice (next year), but most of the time I’ll be in the dugout watching.”
Yet his father feels like maybe the decision was a little strong to keep kids out of the dugout. Even if dad knows full well his son no longer wants to be a full-time bat boy.
”I just think that they took it a little bit too far, as far as the young men and women that at that age, most of them either have their own games or they have lost interest in the game,” Dusty Baker said. ”When I think about him and I think about back in the day when it looks like there were Boones everywhere. There were so many out there — `Are you a Boone?’ `Yeah, I’m a Boone’ — then look at the Bells, Griffey, Barry Bonds and all the guys that are playing then and now because they were out there with their fathers. To my knowledge, the lawyers got involved and they said it had something to do with the child labor laws and, you know, the laws got us.”
Darren Baker, dressed in full Reds uniform, as usual, planned to track down Snow before Saturday night’s Game 1 of the NL division series, to say ”just hi, just normal.” He sat on the podium in the interview room alongside his dad before Saturday’s game.
The Barry Bonds-led Giants came within six outs of winning a World Series title in Game 6 at Anaheim, then lost in Game 7. It wasn’t until two years ago that San Francisco finally captured the franchise’s first title since moving West from New York in 1958.
Little Darren was in tears after the ’02 team fell short, then soon after moved to Chicago as his dad left on difficult terms and became manager of the Cubs.
”When I was 3, I understood the teams and the magnitude of the situation,” he said. ”I guess they just wanted to win badly.”
When the Reds visited this summer, the Giants held their 10-year celebration of the ’02 World Series to coincide with Baker being in town. Darren threw out the first pitch, then got picked up and hugged by Snow and thrown over the former first baseman’s shoulder in a reenactment of sorts to that frightening play.
His 63-year-old father, who recently missed 11 games while recovering from a mini-stroke and irregular heartbeat, was expected to receive a warm ovation from the sellout crowd in the Giants’ waterfront ballpark.
”In the beginning, when they announce his name with the lineups,” Baker said. ”After that, he kind of turns into the enemy.”