BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - Hard to believe it’s been more than 15 years since then-three-year old Darren Baker made a beeline for Kenny Lofton’s bat in the 2002 World Series.
“We had 4 or 5 different bat boys,” recalls Baker. “I wanted to be the one to get Kenny's bat. The only way to do that was to beat everybody to the punch.”
“He made a mistake, he ran out there early because some other kid that never was there before said he was gonna go get Kenny Lofton's bat,” says Darren’s father, 22-year major league manager Dusty Baker. “My son says no you don't - he was competitive at three-years-old.”
Today, Darren is a lot older, a lot taller, and just as competitive. He’s a freshman on the Cal baseball team.
“It lets you know how quickly time flies,” says Dusty. “He was just eight-years-old. Seems like the other day, hanging around in here, hanging around different clubs I was on, and to see him as a young man - he's not quite a man, yet, but he's a young man.”
A young man who’s spent his life immersed in the game - as the son of one of the 'winningest' managers of all-time. “It's been a blessing and a curse at the same time,” explains Darren. “I didn't see him as much as I probably like to in the summers, but being exposed to the best in the world and big league locker rooms, you can't really beat that.”
“It's more like home (at the ballpark) than the house is,” adds Dusty. “He spent more time here as a kid than he did at home or school even, especially during the summer time. You can name them, the superstar players he's been around. He didn't say much but he pays attention, hears guys in the dugout.”
Now. in his new dugout, Darren can hear the most familiar – and important - voice of all. Because Dusty is back home.
“It's probably one of the best things that happened to me and my family,” says Darren. "This being the highest level I've played, I've needed him more this year. Him being at every game. Every weekend we can have a conversation. I wouldn't trade this year for the world. Obviously he would love to be managing, but I think he's really happy here.”
“It's been a blessing, especially when you've missed as much of his life and his games as I have,” says Dusty. “It's a blessing that this situation came up.” But for all the benefits of growing up with a big-league dad, there are challenges as well. Among them, stepping out of a big-league shadow. Fortunately, that hasn’t been an issue at Cal.
“I never felt like I was treated differently thankfully,” says Darren. “They've always treated me like one of the guys.”
“People remember him more for that, but as they get a chance to see him play and see what he does, he's a pretty exciting player to watch,” says Cal baseball coach Mike Neu. “So it's pretty fun for him to have his own identity as a player now.”
“I think he's done just fine making a name for himself and being the great ballplayer he is, just leaving that behind him,” adds Cal first-baseman Andrew Vaughn. “Yeah, Dusty Baker is his dad, but he's Darren Baker. He's a pretty good baseball player.”
“It's not easy,” says Dusty. “I know it's not easy. But I remind him he's not the first. I remind him of Ken Griffey Junior, Barry Bonds, David Bell, all the players that had sons aspiring to major league baseball.”
So what's the best piece of advice dad has given his son?
“Like Hank Aaron told me, be nervous but don't be scared. Whatever fears you have you face them. You don't run from them. I just want him to have fun, be a kid. He'll be a man soon enough he'll have responsibility, bills like the rest of us do, so you enjoy this time in your life.”
Darren is doing just that, as his role model - his hero - looks on.
“I hear nothing but good things from everyone who interacts with him. The players love him. I obviously love him," Dusty says. "He's one of the kind in a lot of different ways and he's the best dad anybody could ask for.”