Hometown Hero: John Baker

Hometown Hero: John Baker

John Baker might someday soon be catching Rich Harden fastballs for the Oakland A's, but for now Baker is filling another important role for the A's: rooting them to victory. As one of the A's top catching prospects, Baker is inching closer to realizing his dream of playing for the team he grew up rooting for.

Yet he hasn't let his own career goals interfere with his love of the A's. When he learned of the team's acquisition of All-Star catcher Jason Kendall, Baker was hardly discouraged, despite the possibility that Kendall could block Baker's path to being the A's starting catcher.

"I always want the A's to be better whether I am there or not, so as a fan I was excited for the acquisition of Kendall because it makes the team so much better," Baker said. "As a player who could possibly, maybe, fill that role in a few years, there is kind of an ‘oh, well' aspect [to hearing about the trade] but it doesn't really affect me as a player because playing in the minor leagues you are really auditioning for all of the teams. It would be a dream to get to the big leagues with the A's, but it is also a dream just to get to the big leagues. So whoever it is with it doesn't really matter, it's just being there that is important."

John Baker, Career Statistics

Year

Team

Lg

Age

AVG

OBP

SLG

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

K

XBH

2002

VAN

NWST

21

.235

.389

.304

115

27

5

0

1

22

37

6

2003

KNCTY

MID

22

.309

.414

.457

304

94

23

2

6

47

77

31

2003

MID

TEX

22

.240

.316

.280

150

36

3

0

1

14

46

4

2004

MID

TEX

23

.280

.355

.477

440

123

32

5

15

37

95

52

2004

SAC

PCL

23

.347

.429

.408

49

17

3

0

0

6

23

3



Baker, who grew up in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek and attended Bay Area high school sports powerhouse De La Salle, spent many a Wednesday night as a teenager at the Oakland Coliseum taking advantage of the A's Dollar Wednesday promotion. When he went to college, Baker didn't go far, playing college baseball 20 minutes away from home at Cal. So it was a thrill for his entire family when draft day rolled around in 2002 and Baker discovered that he was going to have a chance to play for the hometown team.

"My whole family was excited. The first thing that popped in my head when I was drafted was that if I made the major leagues with this team, I could live in my parents' house," Baker said.

The dream of the 20-minute work commute from his parents' house to the Oakland Coliseum became more realistic during the 2004 season, as Baker's strong campaign at AA-Midland and AAA-Sacramento firmly planted Baker at the top of the A's minor league catching depth chart. Baker posted a cumulative OPS of 834 and had 55 extra-base hits in only 131 games played. His reward at the end of the season was being named to the A's 40-man roster.

"It was really exciting [to be named to the 40-man roster]. It is an important step in a career and it also shows the organization has an interest in you and that you could possibly be a guy who can contribute to the big league team," Baker said.

However, the hard working catcher says he is determined to not let his success from last season slow down his desire to get better. He is spending this off-season working on what he and many experts consider to be the weakest aspect of his game: his defense. Baker started the off-season as a member of the Phoenix Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League. During his time in the desert, he practiced with pitching coach Eric Bennett of the Anaheim Angels organization, working on footwork and throwing drills. Armed with these new drills, Baker said he plans to spend the rest of the off-season incorporating them into his already strenuous off-season workout program.

"I'm really going to try to work on [improving my throwing and footwork] so that when I get back to spring training, I look like a different player to the A's," Baker said.

Baker said he is already looking forward to spring training, where he will have a chance to work with the newly acquired Kendall. He intends to learn as much as he can from the A's new catcher.

"Jason Kendall is the exception to the rule in that he catches so many games, so I am interested to see what he does that makes him so durable as a catcher," Baker said. "He caught 147 out of 162 games last year. That is an amazing statistic. Sometimes that is more impressive than the 35 homeruns."

A student of the game, Baker enjoys being a catcher because he gets to be involved in the thinking aspect of the game. Working with pitchers on developing a game plan is one of the aspects of catching that Baker enjoys the most.

"It is exciting to see the intellectual side of the game pay off when a pitcher uses a pitch that you discussed before the game to get a guy out," Baker said. "If you see a pitch that you planned at 5:30 work at 7:30 it is really exciting because you see that preparatory work pay off."

Baker may have been part of the stat-driven "Moneyball" draft class, but don't ask him to quote his own on-base percentage from last season.

"I like to watch a lot of baseball but I'm not a big stat guy. I don't follow my own stats or surf the internet to find other guys stats. I prefer to watch the game situations to see what players step up in certain spots and how the game unfolds," Baker said.

Baker spent a lot of time watching and learning from the veterans on the Sacramento RiverCats' PCL Championship squad this past season.

"It was great for the younger guys on the RiverCats like myself, Mark Kiger, Huston Street, Nelson Cruz who had just been called up. You had guys like Graham Koonce and Mike Edwards who had been there the year before, so they kind of knew how to walk and knew how to act," Baker said. "I was really grateful for the way that they treated us because they said ‘here's what you do and here is what you don't do' and you can watch them when there is a big game to see how to act. It was a great learning experience for me."

The AFL, on the other hand, was just an awesome experience for Baker.

"We had an incredible group of guys. We immediately all became great friends. Every Friday and Saturday night you had 25 guys out for dinner together. I think it was the closest team in the shortest amount of time that I have ever played on in my life. From about day three we were convinced we were going to win that championship," Baker said.

Barring a trade to another organization, Baker will likely spend the 2005 season in Sacramento, about one hour north of his parents' house. However, with another strong campaign, Baker could realize that dream of living at home and playing in Oakland as soon as September.

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