Baker welcomes son's company at ballpark

Baker welcomes son's company at ballpark

LOS ANGELES -- Always at the home ballpark and often on the road there are two occupied lockers in the Reds manager's office. One, of course, belongs to the skipper Dusty Baker.

And the other is for Baker's 12-year-old son, Darren. When not in school back home in Sacramento, Calif., Darren is usually in a Reds uniform and around his father at the ballpark. Dusty Baker wouldn't have it any other way, especially when he remembers how life was like growing up with his father, the late Johnnie B. Baker Sr.

"I was around my dad all the time," Baker said. "I worked with my dad on odd jobs and at my dad's second jobs. The military was his first job. I was the oldest of five so I was always with my dad. My dad was my Little League coach. My dad was the one who showed me the way on how to be a father and be a man -- and how to be responsible. My dad was the most responsible man on Earth."

With the assistance of his mother and Dusty's wife, Melissa, Darren is still hatching his Father's Day plans for this Sunday. Naturally, there will be a card included and a present, and likely dinner. The Reds are back home this Sunday.

"We usually go to Benihana or somewhere where they cook the food in front of you," Darren said.

Last year, Darren got his father a nose-hair trimmer for Father's Day.

"He was always complaining about the old man hair coming out of his nose," Darren said with a smile about his father, who turns 62 on Wednesday.

Dusty Baker also has an adult daughter in 31-year-old Natosha. She, too, was part of her father's life in baseball and on the road.

"My daughter got the same education except she could never understand why she couldn't come into the clubhouse because she was a girl," Baker said. "Her mother and I broke up when she was 8. My most extended visitations were in the summer time, so she was my roommate during baseball season for six years. When I was a coach, she was with me in every town. She got bored quickly, so we ended up seeing the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, the Liberty Bell and Martin Luther King's church in Atlanta.

"I like being with my kids. I take my kids on vacations. My dad always took us on vacations. My mom and dad never took vacations without us. We didn't have the funds to go on vacations that I go to. I expose my kids to everything."

And now similar life experiences are being extended to Darren, who is already one of the game's most famous batboys.

During the 2002 World Series against the Angels when his father managed the Giants, a then 3-year-old Darren went near home plate to retrieve a bat when play was still live. Scoring on a Kenny Lofton triple, J.T. Snow touched the plate and promptly picked up little Darren just before David Bell followed him home -- avoiding what could have been a hideous collision.

Age rules were changed for batboys the following season, but Darren remains a fixture in the clubhouse and field before games. An aspiring ballplayer himself, he roams among the much larger Reds players and is treated like one of the guys. On Monday in the visitor's clubhouse at Dodger Stadium, Joey Votto playfully picked up Darren and body-slammed him to a sofa. Later, Darren played video games with Chris Heisey.

"Since I don't see him a lot when I'm at school and I'm away from him, I like coming down here and getting to spend as much time as I do before I have to go back home," Darren said while standing on the field. "To be in the dugout, it's a privilege. Not everybody can do that."

And then it was time for him to go. Bench coach Chris Speier was about to throw batting practice and wanted to warm up. He played catch with Darren Baker.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.