Welcome to Part II of the interview with former Golden Bear and current Florida Marlin John Baker. Last time out, we looked at John's life growing up, his decision to attend Cal, and his time at Berkeley. In the final part of the interview, we look at his life as a professional baseball player. Further, we have some questions about baseball in general. And you get to find out whether John Baker thinks he will see a Rose Bowl soon! We hope you enjoyed this interview and are working to get interviews with other former Golden Bears, who are currently playing sports professionally. Go Bears and Go Marlins!
17. What was it like switching from aluminum bats to wooden bats?
It is definitely an adjustment. The bats now are about the same size and weight. That part is not too much different. The only thing is that with a wooden bat, the area where you hit the ball hard is smaller. It is a learning curve and takes some time to get used to the bat. The biggest difference between college baseball and professional baseball is the amount of games you play. Figuring out a way to keep your body in shape. In college baseball, the schedule is less games and the most you play is 3 at a time. At pro ball, you are now playing 30 games in a row. That is why we have such a minor league system, because guys have to learn how to be consistent and stay healthy and learn how to play all the time. That is one of the biggest parts of the transition from college ball to pro ball.
I did not worry too much about the bat. A bat is a bat. If you start thinking about it, oh I can’t hit with a wooden bat or I should do this or I should do that you are going to struggle. For me, I didn’t even think about it. I just got a bat that was about the same size and felt the same. I went up and did the same stuff that I was doing since I was 5.
18. You were named in Moneyball, which is a very well known book. Did that have any effect on your experience playing baseball?
Not really. Not something that I really worried about. I was in the same draft as Jeremy Brown. If anything, Jeremy had a chapter devoted to him in that book. I felt like at certain times, he always kinda got the opportunity with the As. I don't think it affected me that much. I got to meet an awesome group of guys in the As organization I got to see play. I still see them play. Joe Blanton is still playing and Mark Teahen and Nick Swisher and all the guys who were in the same draft class. To be able to see those guys still playing, they did a great job of drafting that year. It is funny to se how none of them are with the As anymore.
19. I guess that is the way they do it in that organization. What players did you idolize growing up and have you had any experiences playing with or against them in the pros?
I really liked Will Clark as a kid. I have never got a chance to play against him. It is one of the coolest things about being able to play MLB, some of the people you get to play against. Catching and having Chipper Jones stand in there. Having to take an AB against Billy Wagner. Playing a game where you get to play against Randy Johnson, it is so cool. I grew up as a kid seeing these guys play. It is kinda getting to a point where I am nearing 30 years old and the guys I was watching as a kid are gone. I grew up watching Mark McGwire and he is a coach now. We play against them in spring training and I see him as a coach. I haven't had a chance to play against any of my boyhood idols, because it took me too long to get to the big leagues.
20. How much time do you spend preparing for opposing hitters and studying that sort of thing?
I would say I do that by watching video. On the days that I catch, I probably spend about 45 minutes to an hour a day watching the video. It is usually our starting pitchers’ last start against the other team that we are playing or against those hitters. Then, it becomes easier when you play teams in your division. When we play the Mets or the Phillies or the Braves, I'll just look at those guys last 10 ABs. We've seen them so many time, we kinda know their tendencies. We learn their stuff. You learn how to pitch Jayson Werth, how to pitch Ryan Howard, how to pitch Chase Utley, how to try to pitch those guys. That is something that comes easier.
There is more studying involved when you play teams out of your division or when you play inter league ball. We haven't seen the Texas Rangers in I have no idea how long. We are going to play them in June. That is probably going to be about an hour to an hour and a half a day of watching video.
21. I don't want to sound like an insane fanboy here, but as a fairly large Philadelphia Phillies fan, that is pretty frigging awesome that you get there next to Utley and Howard. Something that seems so beyond my comprehension. Besides getting a chance to play next to Utley or Howard, what is the biggest perk to being a pro baseball player, a pro athlete.
For me, it is being able to go out there and I am trying to figure out a good way to say this. It is that primal competitive instict. You still get to satisfy that. Sometimes that is why you have so many rec basketball leagues and softball teams and company softball teams. People like to compete. Americans like to compete. It is how we are raised. It is how we are bred. To be able to go out there and do that at a high level is great. To be able to look at it and say there are only 59 other people who have my job in the world, when you look at it like that you realize how cool it is really is and how lucky you are.
I will tell you right now, because baseball, MLB especially, is all about the right opportunity. You have to be in the right place at the right time. Some of these guys who have 10 or 12 year careers could have had 1 or 2 year career s or could have never played at all. I have seen a lot of guys in my time who are better hitters than me, better defensive players than me, better baseball players in general, but haven’t had the right opportunity or haven’t been in the right spot and never made it. That is the coolest part, knowing that you are one of the guys who has that opportunity and gets to run out there on the field. A lot of people do, but I don't take it for granted, ever.
22. You have kind of gone through the day to day life of a college baseball player, what differences are there and you have already kinda touched on this a little, but what differences are there in the day to day hour to hour life of a profsesional baseball player?
I think when you are in school, you have multiple focuses. You are focusing on school, you are focusing on baseball. When you are a professional athlete that is your job. For me, it is all about putting myself in the best possible position to perform. The day is lot later. Pretty much all night games. We get home at 11 or 11:30, go to bed at 1:30, wake up at 10:30 or 11. I hang out with my wife for a couple hours in the morning. She drops me off at the ballpark at 12:45 or 1 for a 7 PM game. Get to the ballpark, watch some film, get something to eat, lift some weights, take batting practice, go over the scouting report with the starter, go over the scouting report with the pitching coach, take a shower, put the uniform on, go out on the field, re-warm up again, warm the pitcher and then play the game. Rinse and repeat 162 times.
Sounds like a bit of a grind.
Absolutely. It is a very tough season. When it is late Sept and there are 1,600 people in the stands at SunLife Stadium, formerly Dolphin Stadium, it's hot and nobody is there and we are playing a team that is struggling and they have all of their September call ups in the game, it can be a grind. It is days like that that you step back and say what do I have to complain about. I am getting paid to play baseball. It is the dream of a lot of kids and men out there. As much as it can be a grind, those thoughts last about 5 seconds and then you realize how lucky you are.
23. What is the biggest lesson you learned from Coach Esquer that has really helped you at the professional level?
Coach Esquer used to always talk about wanting to be in the big situation and wanting to play when nobody else wants to play. Nobody else wants to play when the weather is bad or it is too hot or too cold or it is a tough pitcher. To be successful, you need to want to be in those situations in baseball. You need to believe you are going to succeed in those situations. That is something he always harped on.
He was very big on saying things like it is not about how good your swing is all the time, but how good your swing is that day. If it is not good, figure out a way to compete with what you got. Figure out a way to beat the other guy with what you have. That is what I use to this day. If I feeling down or feeling negative about my own ability and I am on the on deck circle, I will think back to figure out a way to get it done. Want to be in this position, want to be the guy who is up with 2 outs and the game on the line, want to be the guy who gets the opportunity to get the big hit and win the game. Something that resonated with me the first time he said that and I will never forget it.
24. This is another interesting opportunity for that intrigues all the people. What is like to be Hanley Ramirez' teammate? There has been a lot in the news about him recently, he is obviously a great player. There is no doubting that. I don't want to get you in trouble.
What is it like to be Hanley Ramirez' teammate? You know it is interesting. He is such an amazing talent. In the 3 years now that I have known, I have watched him grow up. He is a young guy. People fail to realize that. This guy at 18 years old was playing pro ball in America and at that time was not speaking any English. At 23, he was rookie of the year. Some of the stuff that happens, some of his behavior, some of the stuff you see on TV, yknow. Recently we had the thing with him getting in trouble with the manager, it is just immaturity. The guy wants to win and wants everybody else to do well, when you get to know him. You treat your teammates like family members. He is such a good player, such a great hitter and such a great defensive player. He has all the physical ability in the world. Over the last 3 years, I have watched him become a better player and a better teammate each year. As his career progresses and he gets older, he'll be somebody you never hear anything negative about.
It has been about 30 minutes here and I have some final general questions that some of our readers wanted to ask. These are sort of general about baseball and catching. I don't know what your schedule is looking like. We can stop here or we can start to go through some of them, whatever you feel is best.
Let's do 2 or 3 of those and I'll get going. We just pulled into the parking garages. I don't want to disappoint your readers.
25. These aren't as Berkeley oriented, although here is one. Do you ever think you'll see Cal in a Rose Bowl?
Of course. Of course. It'll happen again. It is a matter of time. We keep throwing out great football teams there. It has been really exciting. When I was there it was the dark ages, the Tom Holmoe days. Man, those were tough days to go to. The program has turned around and has been so exciting to watch and so much fun to follow. They'll be in the Rose Bowl eventually.
26. On a check swing, do you think the home plate ump should make the call or do you think it should always be given always to the third or first base ump?
I don't know. It is tough to see that stuff at first base, too. It happened the other day in the Nationals-Astros game. Lance Berkman actually sort of half check swung. It looked like he went on TV. Then, two pitches later, he gets a hit and the Astros win. If they had called that a strike when he swung, the Nationals would have won. I don't know, I think that sometimes you can see it from the ump from behind the plate, if he really does swing big. I think for the most part it should be checked. A 90/10 situation. 90% of the time they check it and then 10% of the time the home plate umpire and catcher know the guy swung the bat.
27. Is there a proper way to statistically evaluate a catcher's influence on a pitcher or a staff in general?
I don't know. There are so many factors in baseball. We saw a microcosm last night when we saw the Jim Joyce Galaraga call. So many things go on during a game. He doesn't have his stuff. Field conditions are different. Day in and day out every night, it's different. Hey, you say, let's do a catcher's ERA. Say you score lot of runs, we'll call the game a little different than if it’s a 1-0 game. Maybe throw a few more fastballs and they'll get a few more hits. It is very difficult to put some statistical value on how good a catcher can be. The best way to determine if a catcher is good or not is to go by anecdotal evidence of the guys who throw to them. Do they like throwing to him? If they did, then the catcher did his job.
28. Any desire to coach when your professional career is over?
JB: Ah, man, I don't know. It is very hard for me to not be in control. That is one of the reasons I gravitated to this position. I get to call the game and I get to decide what pitches we throw. I get to be in control of the whole thing. I don't know how I would do trying to tell somebody else what to do. It’d be kinda difficult for me to sit in the dugout and watch. I enjoy baseball and I enjoy competition. If I was going to coach, it'd probably be the younger kids. I would have a lot more fun trying to teach people to play baseball the right way. I learned from my dad a long time ago, he would always say it, it doesn't take any talent to hustle. It is the number one most important lesson we should be teaching kids when they play baseball. Hey, you hit a fly ball, you run hard, you hit a ground ball, you run hard. Those are the things you control and you don't worry about the other stuff. You just go out there and compete. I'd like to be able to express that, but at the same time I don’t know if I can handle that lack of control, not being able to be out on the field and not do it myself.
29. I appreciate all the time you have given me. The final question I have here is if you had never become a baseball player, what do you see yourself doing? And let me just say that I grew up in the East Bay, majored in PoliSci, and became an atorney. So, that said, GO!
Hey, probably something like that. That was my plan when I was going to UCLA to do exactly that, to do that exact career path. Who knows if it woulda worked out that way or I woulda found something. I have found out later that I have a passion for nutritional science and exercise physiology. It probably has something to do wit me being a professional athlete. Trying to figure out how I can be better. It is something that has really interested me. So much so that I went back and took a college course last year in nutritional science, because it was something I wanted to pursue. A dream of mine now would be to own my own training facility and help people learn the right way to train for their sport or get into shape. That would be something I would enjoy doing. Trying to help people in that field. Maybe I woulda figured that out or I would be sitting right next to you. Who knows?
Again, thank you so much for your time. Go Bears and Go Marlins!