BERKELEY (KPIX) – It’s been over 15 years since the Giants disappointing collapse in the 2002 World Series. Fueled by the Rally Monkey, the Anaheim Angels teed off on the Giants bullpen in Game 6 and stole what would have been their first title in the San Francisco era.
The Giants went on to win three championships since that disappointing time, but for many Giants fans, the pain of 2002 still lingers because it marked the end of Dusty Baker’s managerial run in the Bay Area.
Baker might not be the most successful manager in Giants history, but he’s arguably the most popular. The Sacramento native won the fan base over with his iconic sweat bands, the toothpicks, a flashy smile, and his adorable son Darren.
Out of the 2002 meltdown came one of the most bizarre moments in Fall Classic history when 3-year-old Darren Baker — a bat boy — was yanked out of harm’s way by J.T. Snow as Giants’ runners were barreling towards home plate.
“His eyes were huge,” Snow said in 2002. “I don’t think he knew what was going on.”
It was a classic baseball moment that went viral, just a slightly ahead of its time in the digital world.
Back then, you wanted to give the little guy a hug. His helmet was oversized and he was swimming in his jersey. Today he fills out the uniform much better and he’s traded the orange and black for a little blue and gold at Cal.
Now 19, Baker is a freshman in Berkeley and is the Bears starting second baseman. He has zero recollection of his moment the plate, and is bewildered when he sees the video on YouTube.
“I don’t understand what I was doing,” he said.
It’s hard to understand what goes through the head of any 3-year-old, much less one that’s given a rather important job. Baker was simply doing what he was trained to do – fetch the bat that was tossed aside by Giants center fielder Kenny Lofton on a 2-run triple that banged off the archway in right field.
“Kenny Lofton was my favorite player, so I jumped the gun,” he said. “Some of the older bat boys told me that I wanted to get his bat before anyone else.”
In the months following the incident, Major League Baseball created the “Darren Baker Rule,” placing an age minimum for bat boys at 14. Baker’s been eligible for his own rule for just five years.
The family rarely discusses the moment, besides perhaps Dusty’s mother Christine who warned her son that letting a 3-year-old do the job might be problematic.
“After the game, she called and chewed him out,” Darren laughed.
If anything, the World Series moment brought Darren Baker closer to baseball and his dad. As Dusty picked up jobs across the country, Darren would leave his home in the Sacramento area and join his dad on the road during summer months.
Darren’s exposure to big league baseball has proven to be invaluable. He has personal relationships with players like Barry Bonds, Joey Votto and Bryce Harper. But the person Baker calls his “hero” is still his dad. Perhaps because Dusty acts much younger than his 68 years would indicate.
“We talk about everything. I talk to him about the music I listen to. I bought him a pair of Yeezy shoes,” Darren said. “He’s a lot hipper than people think.”
Not only do father and son have similar interests, they share a physical resemblance as well.
“He’s built just like his dad was at the same age,” said Cal assistant coach Noah Jackson of Baker’s thin, wiry physique.
Jackson has known Baker since the day he was born and is a big reason why Baker committed to Cal when he was a sophomore in high school.
Dusty Baker was a close friend of Noah’s father Sylvester Jackson – a broadcaster for the A’s in the late-80s. When Sylvester Jackson passed away, Dusty made Noah his godson.
“A lot of people come into your life and say they will be there for you,” Jackson said. “But he was actually there for me day in and day out.”
The support propelled Jackson to become a Cal graduate in 2003, and now as an assistant coach with the Bears, Jackson is trying to re-pay the Baker family by mentoring Darren both on and off the field.
“When he was in 7th and 8th grade watching him swing the bat was different,” Jackson said of Baker’s early development as a player. “A lot of it comes from the imitation of guys that his dad would manage.”
Darren was preparing to spend his first year in college 3,000 miles away from his dad, but the Washington Nationals surprised many and decided not to re-new Baker’s contract for the 2018 season.
The dismissal was a blessing in disguise because the Giants re-hired Baker for a front office role in March, and now he gets to watch his son play on a regular basis.
“He’s never really seen me play more than three times in a year,” Darren said.
Baker attended Cal’s weekend series at Stanford and watched quietly from his seat down the third base line. He declined to answer questions about Darren, hoping to keep him out of his shadow.
“I honestly don’t know where I’d be if he hadn’t been at every game,” Darren said of Dusty’s presence. “During the game sometimes I’ll look up at him and he’ll give me one hand motion for a little tweak in my swing.”
First-year head coach Mike Neu enjoys having one of baseball’s greats around his team, but realizes how it might impact his young second baseman.
“When Dusty’s your dad there’s some added pressure,” Neu said, a former big leaguer himself. “There maybe are people who don’t think he is as good as he’s supposed to be, but we really believed in him.”
Baker has come a long way since the adorable bat boy incident. He hit .396 in 28 games at Jesuit High in Sacramento and was named to MaxPrep’s all-state team his senior year, but he can’t seem to strikeout Darren Baker the toddler.
“I hear people in the stands, no matter if I have two hits, three hits, they just want to talk about the moment that happened 15 years ago,” he said.
Baker laments the bat boy incident has overshadowed his accomplishments as a player.
“I think I’m sick of hearing about it,” said Neu. “And I’ve only been with him less than a year.”
Returning to AT&T Park can sometimes be tough on Baker, hearing constant comments from fans about a moment he doesn’t even remember.
“I know he wants to move past it,” said Jackson who put a positive spin on it. “You’re in the Hall of Fame for that, it will always be there.”