Baker: ‘I haven’t felt this good in a long time’

CINCINNATI — Dusty Baker was seated behind his clubhouse office desk early Thursday, dressed in a gray sweater vest and shuffling papers, as I walked in.
Cincinnati Reds media relations director Rob Butcher had approached me in the clubhouse and said, “Go see Dusty.”

And so, FOXSportsOhio.com became the first media outlet to have a chat with the Reds manager since his bout with an irregular heartbeat and a mini-stroke.

It was short and oh so sweet because Baker was upbeat, enthusiastic and effervescent during my short visit.

He looked fit and trim and the smile on his face was as wide as the room. His handshake was bone-shattering, as it always is.

It was the third straight day that Baker showed up in office, keeping the door closed and not talking to the media.

Baker entered Chicago’s Northwestern hospital with an irregular heartbeat while the team was on the road last week. The team left Chicago on Thursday but Baker was held in the hospital for rest, tests and observation.

He was to be released Friday to return to Cincinnati but was hit with a mini-stroke, so he was kept at Northwestern until Sunday.

The first thing he said to me Thursday was, “Do you know I’m the luckiest man on earth to be in the hospital when that happened (the mini-stroke). Maybe not lucky, but blessed.”

He was seated in his office swivel chair making plans for his return to the team Monday in St. Louis, wishing it was tomorrow, wishing it was today.

“I’m OK, I’m fine,” he said. “I haven’t felt this good in a long time. I can’t remember the last time I felt this good.”

It was mentioned that it was unfortunate that he was unable to participate in the celebration Saturday when the Reds clinched the National League Central title.

Before spraying the celebratory champagne after the clincher, the team gathered in the clubhouse around general manager Walt Jockety and toasted their hospitalized manager.

“That’s OK,” he said Thursday about missing the celebration. “Sometimes we take those celebrations too seriously, too early. It’s like I said in 2010 when we won the division:  Don’t do too much celebrating yet. It ain’t over. That’s only step one.”

Baker knows that a lot of his players have never been on a championship team, he smiled and said, “I know that. I wouldn’t stop them from having their fun. They’re entitled to it. But we just want them to know that we want to celebrate three more times. This was only step one.”

And when the Reds begin step two, the National League Division Series, Baker plans to be there, “Every step of the way from here on out.”

Baker said before the irregular heartbeat incident hospitalized him, “I never felt a thing. No warnings. I was fine. And now I’m great, feeling really, really good.”

And it was plain on his face that he was ready, willing and able to get back into uniform No. 12, slide on his ever-present wrist bands, stick one of those specially made toothpicks into his mouth and resume doing what he loves — managing the Cincinnati Reds.