Dusty Baker's new lease on life

Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker (12) takes his cap off to the crowd as he and his team are...

Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker (12) takes his cap off to the crowd as he and his team are introduced along with the San Francisco Giants before the start of Game 1 in their MLB NLDS playoff baseball series in San Francisco, California October 6, 2012. (REUTERS)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:57 PM ET

CINCINNATI - Bill Bavasi oversees the Cincinnati Reds minor league system.

In that capacity he does not see manager Dusty Baker on an everyday basis.

“When you hear the word stroke, if you are like me, you fear the worst,” Bavasi said Monday afternoon at Great American Ballpark as a few Reds worked out after arriving from San Francisco at 8 a.m. As a teenager working as a groundskeeper at San Diego Stadium, Bavasi first met Baker as a slugging outfielder with the Atlanta Braves.

“I was very worried,” said Bavasi when he heard Baker had been admitted to a Chicago hospital Sept. 12 with an irregular heartbeat.

And even more worried three days later when Baker’s scheduled release from hospital was cancelled due to a mini-stroke.

Reds fans will welcome Baker back to the ballpark for the first time since Sept. 12 as Cincinnati tries to wrap up its best-of-five National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants Tuesday at 5:37 p.m.

Besides Cincy fans, Baker’s legion of friends from managing the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs, and playing with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Braves, were worried about the his health.

Bench coach Chris Speier filled in and after missing 11 games Baker returned to manage the Reds Oct. 1 in St. Louis.

* * * *

Sitting at the podium Monday afternoon, Baker looked like the same Baker, smiling as he answered the same mundane questions managers are asked during off days

Is this rotation the deepest you’ve ever had?

Have the Reds matured as a team from 2010 when they were swept by the Philadelphia Phillies?

How much of a spark is Brandon Phillips?

What’s the update on right-hander Johnny Cueto, who in Game 1 left after eight pitches?

Why are you guys hitting so well after not doing well in September?

What impact has catcher Ryan Hanigan had?

And, oh yeah, are you appreciating things that you maybe took for granted after being in the hospital?

Baker began softly saying he thought about his late father, John B. Baker, who died in November of 2009 after suffering a stroke the year before. Baker’s father would have been at the two games in San Francisco, which Baker regards as his home.

“I have an appreciation outside of the game,” Baker told reporters. “Like my family. Or when you watch the geese fly over ... that’s why I got my huntin’ stuff on now.

“I see the geese coming off that river now; I notice every time. Or the half moon the other night. A lot of times you take for granted whether it’s a full moon or half moon. Now all of the sudden you start seeing the moon.”

It may have been one of the most insightful, wisest things we’ve ever heard during a manager’s briefing.

* * * *

Walter Jocketty is in his 19th year as a general manager, the previous five with the Reds.

He went through a similar issue with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999 when manager Tony LaRussa had an ulcer in his stomach lining.

“But nothing like this,” said Jocketty, who ran the Cards from 1994-2007 and has been in charge in Cincinnati since April 23, 2008.

Jocketty explained how Reds’ Paul Lessard was worried about Baker’s swollen ankles in early September. Baker insisted upon waiting until the Reds reached Chicago.

Dr. Steven Adams, a friend of Baker’s from managing the Cubs, made a trip to Wrigley on the Tuesday to examine Baker, placed his stethoscope to Baker’s chest and said “let’s go Dusty, we’re going to Northwestern.”

Baker said he’s alive because he had his mini stroke happened in hospital rather than driving or on a plane earlier in the series.

“I wasn’t really that scared, really, if you’re in a place where it happens, you might as well be in a hospital,” Baker said. “If things aren’t right and all of a sudden, boom, I’m in the hospital. If they can’t take care of me then who can other than God?

“It was a blessing for me to be in a hospital when I had my stroke.”

Now back in uniform, his family reminds him of other things.

Daughter Tash has him on a diet: oatmeal, pastas, couscous, turkey burgers, turkey bacon and zero bacon.

“My daughter wants her dad to live a long time,” Baker said. “I do, too.”

Johnny Rockets, a local burger joint, has taken the double bacon off the Double Dusty Baker burger, smothering it with couscous.

* * * *

How did the teenage Bavasi get to know Baker with the Braves?

Besides his groundskeeping, Bavasi packed bats on getaway days. He watched Baker hit a three-run homer late to beat the Padres and as he headed for the dugout he kept tapping his pal, bat boy Joe Wood, on the head.

Bavasi and Wood were packed the bats when ...

“Out comes Dusty in his shower shoes asking where the bat is, signs it to Joe, gives him a big tip and leaves,” said Bavasi.

Now Bavasi has baseball blood. Papa Buzzie was general manager of Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Dodgers, then the Padres; brother Peter started the Blue Jays in 1976 and Peter ran the Anaheim Angels and the Seattle Mariners.

“I asked Joe what happened, he said Dusty was at the bat rack, couldn’t make up his mind and finally took out a bat, Joe shook his head no and suggested another model,” said Bavasi.

Baker went deep and everyone headed for the Braves’ bus happy.

“That’s what kind of guy Dusty is,” said Bavasi.

* * * *

Baker does not have a contract for next season.

“We want him back,” said Jocketty. “We hope we don’t sit down to talk until November.”

If the World Series goes to a Game 7 it will be played Nov. 2.

“Dusty has a lot more Karma than people realize,” Jocketty said. “He’s spoken to the team since he’s come back from the hospital.”

Baker, who has always worn No. 12, said a youngster gave him a t-shirt during spring training which read:

“The Year of the 12.”

“I believe in that,” Baker said. “It’s the only number I’m wearing while I’m living. So, I think it’s a special year. I feel that it’s our year. Maybe having the stroke is a sign that I am supposed to stay maybe where I am. I believe in signs.”

* * * *

Redlegs right-hander Homer Bailey, who pitched a no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates Sept. 28, which Baker missed, will start Game 3 against the Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong.

“When this happened, to somebody close to us, whether it was Dusty or a coach or player, those things go beyond the game,” said Bailey. “They’re like family. We don’t have a locker room. We have a clubhouse, a clubhouse is where your family lives. We’re around each other more than our own families.

“Dusty always says he’s Highlander. He’ll probably say he won one more battle.”

The Highlander was a fantasy action movie starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery, as a Scottish warrior battles through current-day and past story lines.

* * * *

Bavasi has one more Baker story.

He joined the Inside Edge scouting service along with Randy Istre and Jay Donchetz. The company had five teams and jumped to 17 when Bavasi came aboard.

But not Baker’s Giants.

“Dusty liked it but San Francisco was not interested,” Bavasi said.

Three or four months went by and Baker asked Bavasi, “did the guys from EA Sports call?” The answer is no.

The answer is no for four years as Bavasi becomes a GM again

One day Bavasi answers the phone. It’s Istre and Donchetz. They’ve signed a deal with EA Sports.

“Soon as they sign the paper and shake hands the EA sports guys say, ‘finally Dusty Baker will quit calling us.’”

* * * *

The 63-year-old manager will notice if Bailey gets to his balance point or if the opposing pitcher is tipping his pitches.

And he’ll notice whether it’s a half moon or a full moon.

And he’ll look for geese.

Being the same age ... it’s about time to begin doing the same.


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