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Juneau's Dylan Baker loves the game

Former Crimson Bears pitcher awaits today's MLB draft

Posted: June 4, 2012 - 12:02am
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Dylan Baker during practice at Western Nevada College
Dylan Baker during practice at Western Nevada College

With the Major League Baseball draft beginning today, 2010 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate Dylan Baker has little to worry about.

Baker has already played for the Marlins, Orioles, Cardinals, Angels and the Red Sox.

Okay, so they may be a smaller version of the big league teams with the same names, but to Baker, baseball is fun no matter what level you play on.

“I remember when I was three-and-a-half and living in Oregon,” Baker said. “My dad was pitching underhand to me because I didn’t want to use the tee even though I was the youngest one out there. I loved every second of baseball, every year, it is always fun.”

Baker is one of the top pitching prospects in the country heading into today’s MLB draft and is expected to go in the top 50 picks.

Major League Baseball scouts have been following Baker this past season at Western Nevada College as he led the Wildcats into the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series that ended last week.

But Baker has been on the baseball radar for a long time, even when his helmet was so big it rested on his shoulders.

“They wouldn’t let him play on a team because of the rules but they let him play in a tournament,” Mother Lisa Baker said of Dylan’s first Oregon 5-6 year old Tee-Ball tournament, while still half a year shy of age four. “One of his older brothers was playing and Dylan begged to play. He didn’t want to hit off the tee. It was live pitching for the first time and he hit off a pitch. It was pretty funny, and pretty cute. Dylan used to be really dinky and tiny. He was more excited than his brothers to be in the tourney.”

At four-and-a-half Baker left the Oregon leagues for Juneau’s Gastineau Channel Little League, but he wanted more.

“It was tee ball,” Baker said. “I was on the Marlins. I didn’t really like it, I mean, I liked being on the field but I kind of already knew all the rules and if you hit a ball to the fence you would still only get a single.”

Baker told his coaches, well, his parents, Lisa and Rod that he wanted to play against the best… the pitching machines of the GCLL farm league. He paid his dues playing for the Orioles as the mechanical, or maniacal, presence on the mound shot baseballs at he and his orange and black uniformed teammates.

Baker made his first profound baseball leap by skipping the GCLL Minor League after one season in which he was on Juneau’s Southeast All-Stars championship team, and jumped straight to the Majors to play for the Cardinals and his first revered underhand-pitching coach Rod against roster after roster of 11-12 year olds. The Cards won the title when Baker was 12.

The GCLL Junior League Angels grabbed Baker next at age 13 and the Red Sox took him away at 14. The Juneau team won the state title against Dimond West and played in the regional tourney in Oregon.

“We didn’t do that well but it was so fun to go there with my friends,” Baker said. “We actually shouldn’t even have won state.”

Juneau won the first game against Dimond, lost the next and was trailing 8-1 in the last inning of the final game.

“We came back to win 9-8,” Baker said. “It was one of the craziest games I have ever played in.”

Baker only played one year at the GCLL Senior League level, again for the Red Sox organization.

“I just stuck with high school ball and summer ball,” Baker said.

The Crimson Bears were one of the best teams in the state Baker’s freshman year as older brother Clae was a senior pitcher leading them to the Region V title and a state championship game against Sitka. The Wolves won 6-2. Dylan played both JV and varsity that season.

In Dylan’s sophomore year the Crimson Bears won the region and state titles, both over Sitka.

“I wasn’t very big then,” Baker (now 6-foot-3 and 215-pounds) said. “I used to be really small, like super small, like real skinny and stuff. So I couldn’t throw hard or anything or hit with power. I shared time with another player but it sure felt good to be with friends and win state.”

In his junior year JDHS had the best conference record but stumbled in the region tourney and didn’t advance. After being ranked second in the state their bats suddenly produced just two runs in 15 innings.

“Yeah,” Baker said. “That kind of said what happened.”

Current JDHS pitching coach Sean Bavard was a senior and Baker’s teammate that season.

“After high school he just became a whole different player,” Bavard said. “He we really good then but, man, he must have really worked and he progressed way more than I ever imagined he could. I am so happy for him.”

As a senior Baker and his friends blossomed.

“We had been playing together pretty much our whole lives,” Baker said. “We had won state before and we were like, we got this. We worked really hard and it just all worked out.”

Baker batted first and hit 14 home runs while averaging .484 with 36 RBIs. Three teammates hit over .500 and the Crimson Bears went undefeated 21-0 en route to a state championship. The Crimson Bears also won the Academic Team trophy. Baker also went 6-0 on the mound with 63 strikeouts in 32 innings and a 1.97 ERA.

“He’s a great kid and he was one of our team leaders,” 2010 head coach Steve Bavard (Sean’s dad) said. “A wonderful kid and a wonderful athlete.”

Bavard said Baker had knowledge from former coach Jim Ayers and an attitude.

“He was cocky when he was younger but he matured when he became an upper classman,” Bavard said. “He learned how to deal with his emotions and not get down on other teammates. If he got kind of mad or things weren’t going his way he would straighten his pant legs out and take a deep breathe and then go back and start pitching. So if you see him grabbing his pant leg you know he is upset about something. He learned how to let things go his junior year and just worry about his job. When he learned he was only one of nine out there and to just do what he could do to win and make the team better, that was the key for his success I think. When he was younger he tried to play all nine positions, when he got older he just focused on what he was doing and where he was. That shows a lot of maturity and it made him a leader.”

Besides Alaska recognitions and accolades that 2010 season Baker was also selected the Gatorade Player Of The Year and the Louisville Slugger Player Of The Year.

After his senior season he realized he was a lot better than when he wore the Crimson and Black as a junior.

During summer of his junior and senior Crimson Bears’ seasons Baker played for the Seattle Shockers and traveled in Washington and Oregon.

Shockers coach Don Moe knew “a guy” in the MLB Giants organization and encouraged Baker to think bigger.

“I didn’t think I was that good,” Baker said. “I definitely wasn’t the player I am now, but I always thought I could keep getting better and better and I might have a chance at getting drafted. I definitely got a lot better than I expected. Where I am at now is unbelievable to me. I am really humbled and thankful.”

With just Tacoma Community College (Wash.) and Lane Community College (Ore.) showing any interest in his abilities, Baker’s first college year was spent following an assistant summer league coach to TCC.

“I felt comfortable I guess,” Baker said. “Once I got over there I just wasn’t as comfortable.”

A young coaching staff, a lack of one-on-one time for all the players, and a 3-3 throwing record and 3.47 ERA for Baker didn’t help.

“I just felt like I wasn’t getting any better there,” Baker said. “It just wasn’t working out for me.”

That summer Baker went to New York and played in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. The league was founded in 2010 by eight college teams located across upstate New York in conjunction with baseball’s largest scouting service and is for players with college eligibility remaining and looking for a next level shot. Working with pitching coaches there Baker learned and developed more in those two summer months than the entire previous year.

Baker realized he couldn’t go back to Tacoma. After returning to Juneau and consulting with his parents Baker called Moe to aid in a search for an established program that would challenge and develop.

“Dylan was always focused and accountable,” Moe said. “Which is unusual now-a-days. He is a quality individual. The major league baseball has a tendency to do a lot of background checks on guys they are going to draft and Dylan has a lot of positive things going for him. He is just a good quality young man.”

Moe suggested Western Nevada College and Baker left Juneau for Nevada the next night. Baker’s close friend and former Crimson Bears’ teammate Miles Bedford was on the Wildcats roster as well. Unfortunately, Wildcats coach DJ Whittemore had no scholarships available.

“I would have to walk on,” Baker said. “That was fine by me. When I first arrived on campus everyone was really nice and welcoming and it felt nice there. And it worked out really good. I just wanted to play somewhere.”

And play he did.

While helping the Wildcats to a 31-8 conference record (48-17 overall) Baker established a new WNC pitching record of 13-0. He flirted with an ERA of less than 1.00 all season and finished with a 1.91. After his first 10 starts his record was 9-0 with an 0.20 ERA. In 18 appearances he threw three complete games, pitched over 84 innings, struck out 126 batters, walked 46, while giving up just 46 hits and 26 runs.

Baker gives the credit to Whittemore and WNC pitching coach James Beard.

“When you are throwing the ball good it just feels amazing,” Baker said. “I know a lot of people have helped me reach this level. So many things are a part of what I am doing and where I am. It is so hard to put into words how I feel about all this.”

Baker’s record 13th win came in an elimination game at the 10-team JUCO World Series on May 27th. The 9-2 win over Cisco College gave the Wildcats hope after an opening round loss to Polk State 10-1.

Baker had to win to keep the team alive.

“I was thinking I had to give everything for the team,” Baker said. “We had to get that win. It was crazy. There were 5,000 people there. I was really just focused on the game. I tried to find a weakness on every batter. Once I got out there it just felt like a normal game. I tried not to do anything special. The coaches had a scouting report and the team was behind me.”

Nothing special included 7-plus innings and 10 strikeouts. The Wildcats did drop their next game to Iowa Western 6-4. Baker didn’t throw in either of the losses.

Baker found out on Saturday night that he was selected to the JUCO World Series All-Tournament Team.

When asked if he was still having fun and what advice he had for those whose helmets still rest on their shoulders, Baker stated he was loving baseball, as much as he always has.

“If it is your dream, don’t give up on it,” Baker said. “If you find a comfortable place and a good program it is really easy to love the game. And if you love the game before that then it is just crazy. Just always work hard, never give up and follow your dream.”

Continued Baker, “I was pretty cocky in high school and all my friends were. I realize now that I am a lot better than I have ever been, but I am proudest that people say I am humble now and don’t try to show off. I am not like that any more. I can’t complain where I am right now, even if I don’t get drafted in the first couple rounds. I love baseball.”

Baker stated he still likes hunting and fishing with his family; the Russian dumplings at Pel’ Meni; hanging with his friends and tubing at the lakes and hiking Juneau’s trails.

“Not the Mt. Juneau stuff,” Baker said. “I am a flat land hiker.”

Baker loves to fish and has caught a 30-pound king salmon (prefers Coho fishing), used to duck hunt, and harvested his first deer as a high school sophomore.

“I am not a person who would ever big league someone or be a jerk,” Baker said. “Getting drafted won’t change the fact that I am still from Juneau or that all my friends are there. I talk to my friends a lot and miss them every day. Even when we don’t talk for a little while, it is like we never stopped. We have been friends forever. They are happy for me and think this is just as crazy as I do.”

Baker is considered by most MLB scouts to be the first junior college player taken in the draft and has been projected to be among the top 50 picks overall.

Most major league teams had him fill out draft paperwork to be eligible for the draft. Those with more interest had talked to him and watched him multiple times.

Baker has a draft advisor (David Matranga, who played 12 years in MLB) that is his go between. All Baker’s phone calls go to voice mail and then to his advisor.

“Because I don’t know anything about drafts,” Baker laughed. “He doesn’t want me to say yes to a cheeseburger and a coke. He said the phone has been ringing a lot and it is just crazy. He thinks it will work out pretty well for me. It is pretty nerve wracking really. I am definitely excited, but I just want to throw the ball and play. I don’t care where.”

A team that drafts Baker will probably put him in their Short A System (advanced college players) as he has already thrown 84 innings of college this year. A team would throw him a time or two and shut him down for the season, condition him, and next summer would be spring training.

Baker said MLB teams that have had contact through the year have been Baltimore (Orioles), Toronto (Blue Jays), St. Louis (Cardinals), Texas (Rangers), Minnesota (Twins) and Milwaukee (Brewers).

“Those have been the top teams,” Baker said. “But you never know how it will go.

It is a short list with long odds to become a major league player. Only 11 born-and-bred Alaskans have reached that level. Nine were born in Anchorage, including six-time MLB All-Star Curt Shilling, a right-handed pitcher.

“Dylan is a pretty open book,” Lisa Baker said. “He’s a nice kid and he works hard. He just loves baseball and always has, even when he was real little. He likes to joke, he loves his friends to death and likes to spend time with them and he likes to play ball.”

And he has another advantage as draft day begins.

Baker, over his early years, has already played for the Marlins, Orioles, Cardinals, Angels and the Red Sox.

(coverage of the draft begins at 3PM Alaska time on the MLB Network and will also be streamed live on MLB.com)

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