An optimistic Baker is hoping to revive rosy days in Cincinnati
Pitchers and catchers report today as spring training begins under the Reds new manager.
By Hal McCoy
Sunday, February 17, 2008
SARASOTA, Fla. — Dusty Baker sat under a small roof-only tent anchored into the grass between the media workroom and the Pete Rose batting cages Saturday, Feb. 16, at Ed Smith Stadium and before the cameras rolled he said, "Let me cover the coffee stains on my shirt before we begin."
It was Baker's first spring training appearance as manager of the Cincinnati Reds.
The coffee stain was easy. Removing the stains of seven straight losing seasons in Cincinnati won't be that easy and Baker knows it.
"I remember coming to Cincinnati in the 1970s and everything was in red — red in the windows, red dresses on the women, red hats on the men," he said. "I'd love to get back to that. I'd be pleased. That's done with winning and I'd be proud to be part of that. The fans yearn for that, to get back to that."
Baker realizes he can't do it overnight and can't do it with mirrors.
"One of the proudest moments of my life was when I was with the Giants in San Francisco and a male nurse told me, 'Dusty, you give us hope.' "
Baker hopes he gives hope to hopeful fans.
"I run an organized camp," he said. "I like to be organized, to be time efficient. I believe you are there to work. I want the guys to do a steady progression of getting better for the season so we can open the season 100 per cent wide-open — ready physically, emotionally and mentally."
Official workouts for pitchers and catchers begin this morning and while Baker loves the fact there is water, water everywhere for fishing, the poles and hooks can wait.
"I'm going to try not to enjoy myself too much," he said. "We have work to do. The game stops for no one. The game is like a clock. It stops for nobody."
And the clock starts ticking today, Feb. 17.
"I'm in a learning period because there are a lot of guys I don't know," he said. "Even the guys I do know, I don't know what it takes to get them ready for the season. Which guys are fast starters, which guys need extra reps, which guys I have to slow down because they get stale quickly.
"I'm relying a lot on the coaches who were here before (Brook Jacoby, Dick Pole, Billy Hatcher, Mark Berry) to help me," Baker added. "That's the reason I kept a lot of the coaches who were here, so I don't have to take that long period to learn about everybody.
"Spring training is work," he said. "It may be fun for fans, but when you get here early and leave late, it's fun but it's work. I equate spring training as studying for a test. Doing your homework for when the test starts, which is the season. You have to study and you have to get ready."
There are many questions. Who is the center fielder? Is there enough starting pitching?
Is the center fielder rookie Jay Bruce, only 20? Is it Ryan Freel, recovered from a season of misery on the disabled list? Is it Norris Hopper, the guy who stepped in last season and dazzled?
"I've yearned for young players who I can teach (like Bruce)," said Baker. "I don't shy away from nothing. I was a young player once and I was in the big leagues when I was 19 and there to stay when I was 22.
"What you want, though, is options. Like last year when Freel got hurt. Where would we have been without Hopper? You want tough decisions because that means you have quality people.
"I can't say who is who and where is where," he said. "People ask me who would start if the season started tomorrow and I answer, but I can't really say. We're not starting tomorrow, so that's not a fair question."
And the pitching?
"We have enough people," Baker said with a laugh. "We have some good arms. It is just a matter of how some of them have matured and how some of them have an aptitude for learning and the application of what they learn. You look for a guy who has an aptitude to learn and ability to retain what he is taught and apply it on command."
In other words, Baker could use some pitching help.
Baker's one visit to Florida since his playing days in 1983 was last spring, "And it was ironic. I was starting out with ESPN and they sent me to Sarasota to sit in a truck and observe — it was a Reds-Boston game that Dice-K pitched. I had no clue I'd be back within a year as manager."
Baker only wishes he had a Dice-K included in the Reds' rotation.
Key spring training dates for the Reds
Today, Feb. 16: Pitchers and catchers report, take physical exams, then perform in first workout.
Wednesday, Feb. 20: Position players report, take physical exams, then perform in first workout.
Feb. 26: Mandatory reporting date for all players who did not report when their teammates were asked to report.
Feb. 26: Intrasquad game at noon in Ed Smith Stadium.
Feb. 27: First exhibition game vs. Philadelphia in Clearwater, Fla. (1:05 p.m.)
Feb. 28: First home exhibition game vs. Minnesota in Ed Smith Stadium (1:05 p.m.)