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An older article on John Baker I found...


Oct 16, 2003
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I was just searching around for info on Baker and I thought I would share what I found. This was from last year June 11, 2006


Two baseball players from the same team at Cal get drafted by the Oakland A's a year apart. One is taken in the fourth round and gets a $261,000 signing bonus. The other is taken in the 26th round, turns down the bonus offer and goes back to finish college.

Four years later they are both in the minor leagues, having gotten there from opposite directions and perhaps going in opposite directions, though not the ones that would have been predicted. This is the story of John Baker and Brian Horwitz, and the contrasts between the Triple-A Pacific Coast League and the Single-A California League.

In either place, baseball is essentially a waiting game, and that's not counting all the waiting built in to baseball itself. The big wait is in waiting to get called up to the next level, starting with short season Single-A, then low Single-A, high Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, and finally the Show (as Major League Baseball has been known for generations.) Most minor league clubs are independently owned, but each has a Major League affiliate that supplies players, their meager salaries and the waiting.

Within the big wait are all the little daily waits. The waiting on an eight-hour bus ride, or at an airport. The waiting in a motel room. Then there are about six hours of waiting around once they get to the ballpark. One day this season, Baker managed to buy and complete an entire novel in the course of one day's wait.

This spring we decided to go out and wait with them. What follows is the up-and-down story of Baker, 25, a catcher with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, and the down-and-up story of Horwitz, 23, an outfielder with the high Single-A San Jose Giants. A trade or waiver here, a promotion or demotion there, and they could end up teammates again.
Triple-A, Sacramento

The call from the Oakland A's came two days before John Baker's wedding to Meghan Fryer last December, and it wasn't with congratulations. He was being dropped from the Major League roster -- a call that cost him $54,500 two days after closing escrow on a house in Danville. His services as a catcher were put up for sale, and while honeymooning in St. Lucia he got a call that he had been claimed by Florida. For Christmas, Meghan's mom gave everyone Florida Marlins T-shirts, just in time for Baker to be released by Florida and re-claimed by Oakland. This gave him cause for optimism until his 25th birthday, Jan. 20, when he was told again that he would not be on the Major League roster, raising anew the queasiness of that $54,500.

The A's organization had clouded Baker's wedding day and rained on his birthday. To further confuse him, he was invited to Major League Spring Training. With a point to make, he hit .500, punctuating it with a double that Barry Bonds fielded in the Bay Bridge Series, at the Coliseum in Oakland.

That was a moment he should have bottled because it's the closest he's ever gotten to the Major Leagues.

When the season started he was still off the 40-man roster, which consists of the 25 active big leaguers plus 15 replacement players in the minors who can come and go all season. One catcher at Sacramento, the A's Triple A-affiliate, is usually on the 40-man roster. Last year it was Baker. This year he was leapfrogged by Jeremy Brown, up from Double-A. This came into play in May when Oakland catcher Jason Kendall was suspended for four games for fighting. Brown was called up as his replacement and paid $1,786.89 per game, the big-league minimum, to sit on the bench. On the same day, Baker was at the field at 3:45 a.m. to meet a 7 a.m. commercial flight from Sacramento to Oklahoma City. After a Las Vegas layover, the team went directly to the ballpark, where Baker caught a hot and humid night game for which he was paid $297.81.

Last year at this time, Baker would have been the guy to get that call to the Bigs. Still on the rise, he had been MVP of his team in both Single-A and Double-A. Then he had a bad year at the plate in Triple-A, and now Oakland seems a lot farther away than his 67-mile commute from Danville to Sacramento.

"Coming up, I was a prospect," he says while driving to work. "Last year was the only season in my career I've ever struggled offensively and I basically got written off. There was no 'we'll see how he rebounds this year.' They took me off the 40-man roster." This makes him wonder why Oakland re-claimed him last winter instead of giving him a shot to land on another team. The answer, he says, lies in the $261,000 signing bonus, which hitches a player to that franchise for six seasons. If the A's were to release him, they'd forfeit the bonus and assume the risk that he would realize his potential and make it with another club.

"In baseball they'd rather bury somebody's career than look stupid," says Baker, who is now a backup catcher looking at a backup plan, which means going back to finish his last year at Cal and collect his bachelor's degree in American Studies.

He is not a whiner and he's not hurting. The sting of that 67-mile commute is eased by a new BMW 325i, and both sets of parents helped him and his wife buy in Danville, "to keep us in the area," says Baker, who grew up in Walnut Creek. Meghan, 24, is from Danville and they live so close to her parents that she is able to teach 4th grade at the parochial school she attended -- St. Isadore's. She comes home for lunch and to see "Bake," as she calls him, off to work.

On weekends and during the summer, she goes to home games in Sacramento and they stay with Baker's grandfather, Art Baker, who lives in Roseville. Baker splits his nights between Roseville and Danville. Coming from either direction he gets to the ballpark at about 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, announcing his arrival by jawing with the parking lot attendant before he gets into the clubhouse, where the real jawing begins. "Guys understand when somebody's having a tough time and that's when the joking starts," he says. "Especially at this level, you get guys who have been around for a while. You don't worry about the bigger picture. You just have fun that day." Raley Field, the River Cats' stadium, opened in 2000 and its clubhouse is a stand-alone building beyond the left field fence. Baker has a corner stall by the door to the field.

"Man, I've been here three years," he says. "I get the best locker."

As a veteran, he rates, even though there are players in the clubhouse making $1 million this season. Second baseman Keith Ginter is being paid $1.2 million this year and he, like Baker, was left off the 40-man roster.

For the guys locked into their first A's contract, like Baker, it is straight scale -- $1,100 a month for five months in Single-A, $1,500 for Double-A, $2,150 for Triple-A.

"Baseball, you're not just scraping by, you're digging into the money you got as your signing bonus because you can't afford to live on what you get paid," says Baker, who has thought this through. His father, Dave Baker, who played baseball at Stanford, is a CPA in Walnut Creek.

The disparity in pay should be fodder for jealousy, backbiting, sabotage. But Baker isn't that kind.

"As soon as you start wishing bad about somebody else then you've got to re-examine why you're thinking that," he says. "I could never live my life that way. Maybe it's because I grew up Catholic and have a lot of guilt."

As such he is one of the first players to arrive, though he travels the farthest. He works out in the weight room, then makes lunch in the fully stocked kitchen. Next comes batting and fielding practice, then the players leave the field until game time. The locker next to Baker's belongs to Kazuhaito Tadano, a Tokyo import who waits silently, reading a book in Japanese. On the nearby couch is a player snoring. Baker has his left shoulder wrapped in ice and with his right hand he is dealing cards. "The best teams I've played on are when everybody says, 'Screw the big leagues, let's just have a good time,' " he says, "because we see each other 150 days in a row, eight hours a day."
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?...CMG5VISP9T1.DTL (Sorry the link does not work...)

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