By: Mike Rose
Darren Baker's baseball journey began on the biggest stage there is in the sport, the World Series. However, it was not as a player or manager but as a bat boy for the San Francisco Giants back in 2002 who were being managed by his dad, Dusty Baker. At just three years old Darren was introduced to baseball fans across the country.
"Basically Kenny Lofton was my favorite player growing up and Nikolai Bonds (Barry Bonds' son) was telling me he was going to go get Kenny's bat and I tried to beat him to it and the rest is history," Darren said.
For many in the baseball world, a moment like that one may be the biggest spotlight they ever have shone on them. Darren, however, is looking to make that just the prologue to his story as he pushes toward the majors.
Dusty, as a baseball lifer, has already established the Baker name as a regular in the baseball world. After being drafted in the 26th round by the Atlanta Braves back in 1967, he went on to play 19 years in the major leagues with the Braves, Los Angles Dodgers, Giants, and Oakland Athletics before retiring in 1986. Seven years later Dusty returned to San Francisco where he would manage the Giants from 1993-2002. He would go on to manage the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Washington Nationals before taking over his current position at the helm of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
All the while as Dusty journeyed around the league as a manager Darren was along for the ride. From his notorious appearance on the field in the 2002 World Series to seeing the likes of Sammy Sosa and Joey Votto up close Darren got a firsthand look at what it takes to be successful at the big league level.
"I'm extremely fortunate to have been around some of the best and some of them I'm in contact with today. Joey Votto is one of my closest friends and obviously, I was introduced to him through my dad. I just feel normal and more comfortable in these situations than most," Darren said.
Darren was drafted out of high school by the Nationals in the 27th round in 2017. Although he could've elected to make the transition to the pros he opted instead to head to college about two hours away from home at the University of California Berkley.
"I think I probably wasn't ready physically or personally. I had never been away from home like that. It ended up working out the way it was supposed to but I just wasn't ready," Darren said.
Darren became a regular in the Golden Bears' lineup as a freshman. He appeared in 44 games and posted a .273 batting average with a home run, 23 RBI, and 29 runs. He followed that up with a sophomore season where he hit .307 with 19 RBI and 37 runs as well as going 21-for-21 on stolen base attempts. After just 16 games were played in his junior campaign in 2020 Baker's season, as well as that of all of the sports world, came to an end due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The stoppage presented a unique opportunity for Darren to spend quality time with his dad.
"I think 2020 was really big for my development. I had never been able to spend that much quality time with my dad where we were able to just work on things and iron some things out. Those six to seven months were huge for me," Darren said.
Baker used that time of development to turn out the best season of his collegiate career. He started all 55 games and reached base safely in 54 of them. He compiled a .327 average with 17 RBI, 28 stolen bases, and 40 runs scored. His performance earned him All-Pac-12 First Team honors and the Nationals made the choice to select him once again, this time in the 10th round of the 2021 MLB Draft.
In now his third season since being selected Darren finds himself on the cusp of the major leagues. He's spent the entire 2023 season with the Rochester Red Wings in Triple-A and despite missing time with injuries he's appeared in 66 games and hit .288 with three home runs, 29 RBI, and 35 runs while adding 13 stolen bases. Even now after being around as much baseball as anyone could hope for he's still looking to learn.
Veterans like Matt Adams and Derek Hill have continued to help provide insight and help develop Darren and the young Red Wings talent.
"I can't say enough how lucky I am to be with the group of guys in here. A lot of things I go through them for the first time and to have guys who I can ask questions and kind of help me through it is big for me," Darren said.
Darren's willingness to learn, slick defensive work, and athleticism have been major reasons why he's risen up the ranks as quickly as he has. Although he may not have started out as a major player in the Nationals' rebuild he's found himself up to the number 25 ranked prospect in the organization. As Darren Baker's game continues to grow, his story may be just beginning.