On our trip to Tucson for Padres 360, one of the players we wanted to interview was John Baker. The Padres had sent him to AAA Tucson when Yasmani Grandal was activated after serving a 50 game suspension for PED. When we arrived on Friday, John was there working with the team, talking to the younger players about playing in the big leagues and establishing himself as a clubhouse leader. We interviewed John before the Tucson Padres played the Sacramento River Cats on Saturday night, which was the night Tucson wore their retro Toros 1980 jerseys. They resemble the 1970’s Houston Astros jerseys who they were a minor league team for at the time.
The Casual Fan-What is your earliest memory of baseball?
John Baker-I don’t remember it, but I have photographs of it. When I was a little kid growing up in Oakland, my grandfather hung a whiffle ball from a tree and we got video, well it may be 9MM video of me in a diaper hitting the ball and my dad would ask me, he would see my swing and drop to a knee and he would ask me what are you doing? And I said daddy, Reggie Jackson, Reggie Jackson. I also remember the day that Jose Canseco called up by Oakland and watching my dad play softball. Those are my 3 earliest memories of baseball.
The Casual Fan-So you’re an old school A’s fan?
The Casual Fan-How old were you when you first started playing Little League?
John Baker-Well, I started playing T-Ball when I was 5 and then when kids were pitching I was 8.
The Casual Fan-Who are your all-time favorite major league players and what do you like about them?
John Baker-I have mainly 2 guys that I have a lot of respect for and really admire. The first one is Will Clark. He was a first baseman for the Giants, Rangers and Cardinals at the end of his career. I loved his swing and I always wore #22 growing up in honor of Will Clark since I was a left-handed hitter. When I watch my Little League movies, I am getting in there with dead on replica of Will Clarks’ batting stance pulling my shoulder up and blowing a bubble when I am batting and trying to be “Will The Thrill.” The second one I have a lot of respect for and got to play for and against was Jason Kendall. He epitomized everything a catcher should be. A great relationship with the pitchers, understood how to call the game, understood how to play psychologist and he was one of the toughest people I have ever met. It didn’t matter what happened to him, he wanted to play in the game, you had to pull him off the field to get him out. I think as a defensive player it is Jason Kendall, as a offensive player, it’s Will Clark.
The Casual Fan-Did you meet either one of them?
John Baker-I knew Jason Kendall pretty well. He was the catcher for the A’s when I was in spring training for a couple of years and he took me under his wing and taught me a lot of stuff. I also had a chance to play against him when I was with the Marlins and he was with Milwaukee. When we had day games, he would get together with me just to talk about how to work the video, how to talk to the umpires. He treated me real well. I haven’t met Will Clark yet.
The Casual Fan-What is your proudest moment either as an individual, or with a team you have played on?
John Baker– My first hit in the big leagues. I hit a home run off of Chan Ho Park in the second game I played in. It is something I will never forget. I remember running around the bases and having to remind myself to put my left foot in front of my right foot. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I was really concerned rounding the bases I was going to trip and fall. So that is something that sticks out to me. It was so fresh. And then coming in the dugout and Luis Gonzalez was sitting in our dugout, he was on our team and said. He said 1 down and 499 to go.
The Casual Fan-If you weren’t playing baseball, what would you be doing?
John Baker-I would probably be a lawyer. I was going to go to UCLA and do political science and then go to law school, but I got lucky enough to get an opportunity to go to CAL and play baseball there, so I ended up there. But that was kind of my plan out of high school was to go to law school.
The Casual Fan-John, thank you for your time.
That night after the game, we all went back to the hotel to relax and talk about the night. Rebecca worked on editing pictures for the Tucson Padres and I talked with our kids that came along on the trip. At 2AM, we got a Facebook message from Luigi Novello. He had noticed that we were all in Tucson and he wanted us to pass on a message to John Baker. He had been trying to contact John’s wife and wanted to know how her pregnancy was going as well as other stuff having to do with John Baker. I told him we would pass along the message. My son Alex said he would gladly talk to John Baker and pass along Luigi’s message after the game later that day.
Before the game, the Tucson Padres GM Mike Feder approached us and asked us if we needed anything and I mentioned that we would love to talk to Logan Forsythe. Mike went into the clubhouse and came out with a message; “He is more than happy to talk to you after the game. When you’re on the field before the game, I will point you both out to him and he’ll chat with you after the game.” Logan ended up having a great night, hitting 2 home runs to help lead the Tucson Padres to a 5-2 win over Sacramento. John Baker had a hit and called a great game for Padres starter Sean O’Sullivan.
We waited for the players by the tunnel and Logan walked up to talk to me. As I conducted my interview, John Baker came towards us and my son called him over. “Can I ask you a question?” John said, “Sure.” Alex said, “I’m a season ticket holder of the San Diego Padres and sadly because of this, I know Luigi.” John’s response was, “Oh no.” “So at about 2AM I got text from Luigi with a message for you.” John looked at Rebecca with a look of, did this really happen, on his face. She told John that it did happen. Alex showed him the message and John said, “Tell Luigi my wife is doing ok and I’ll talk to him when I get back to San Diego” and he walked up the tunnel. We didn’t know until the next day that it would be John’s last game in the Padres organization as he was designated for assignment, and later claimed by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
I will miss John Baker. He is a great guy and a class act.