Darren Baker, Jack Leiter make for son-splashed Futures Game
LOS ANGELES (AP) — This year’s All-Star Futures Game was son-splashed.
Darren Baker, the 23-year-old son of Houston manager Dusty Baker, was on the National League roster at Dodger Stadium for baseball’s premier showcase event.
Jack Leiter, the 22-year-old offspring of two-time All-Star Al Leiter, pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning for the American League staff in a 6-4 win Saturday, reaching 97.5 mph.
Darren entered in the fifth and lined out to center. He is remembered as the 3 1/2-year-old bat boy for his daddy’s Giants who was scooped out of harm’s way by J.T. Snow during Game 5 of the 2002 World Series.
“I feel like it’s always seen that way a little since it happened,” Darren said before the game.
They are part of baseball’s generational pipeline of families made famous by the Bells, Boones, Colemans and Hairstons. Just ahead, Sunday’s amateur draft could see Druw Jones (son of Andruw), Justin Crawford (Carl) and Jackson Holliday (Matt Holliday) become first-round picks.
Bypassed in a 2020 draft shortened to five rounds due to the coronavirus, Darren Baker remained at Cal for his senior year and hit a team-best .327 with 28 stole bases in 34 tries, though with no homers and 17 RBIs.
Washington, the team his father managed in 2016 and ’17, drafted him in the 27th round in 2016 and in the 10th round with the 293rd pick in 2020, signing him for slot value of $146,800. Darren played four games at the rookie level Florida Complex League Nationals and 18 at Class A Fredericksburg.
This year he is at Wilmington of the South Atlantic League, a higher Class A, and is batting .273 with two homers, 25 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Quite different than college ball.
“It’s more just just the grind of playing every day,” he said. “It’s a lot of games.”
Leiter looks like a right-handed clone of his left-handed dad, who pitched from 1987-2005. Same facial features, same vocal cadence, same opinions — pitch clocks OK with no runners but not with men on base.
Jack attended Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey, where he was teammates with Yankees shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe, also on Saturday’s AL roster.
Leiter went to Vanderbilt rather than sign with the Yankees, who took him in the 20th round in 2019. Texas selected him second overall last year after Pittsburgh picked catcher Henry Davis, and he started his pro career this season at Double-A Frisco. Leiter is 2-7 with a 6.30 ERA in 14 games. Leiter has had to adapt to the inundation of information in modern baseball.
“It’s balancing all the awesome information that we get with competing,” he said. “I think it’s easy sometimes to get away from that, when you’re looking into spin rates and the shape of your slider, what the TrackMan said about your curveball that outing, my release point was 0.2 inches whatever lower than it was earlier in the season. You can start looking too far into these things and then it comes time to compete and they’re still kind of in your head.”
Al Leiter was on hand Saturday but Dusty was in Houston for the Astros’ game against Oakland. He will fly to Los Angeles to manage the AL in Tuesday’s All-Star Game, and Darren will stick around.
“It’ll be good just to see him,” Darren said.
Dusty Baker, a two-time All-Star during a playing career from 1968-86, is known for his relationships throughout the sport, his habits that include chewing Tea Tree Therapy Toothpicks and a sartorial style with elements including custom wristbands designed by James Mims that picture Baker from his days as a player.
Darren prefers designer arm sleeves under his jersey — Saturday’s had a thunderbolt. He finds it difficult to describe what makes his dad so cool.
“For me, it’s just the relationship him and I have,” he said. “I feel like he’s more like a best friend, even though he is my dad. Just a respectful man, and he treats everybody the way he’d want to be treated.”
Jack Leiter has vague memories of his father’s playing days — he was 5 when Al threw his final pitch.
“I remember being around the clubhouse,” he said.
Then his father became a broadcaster, and Jack tagged along for All-Star Games and the Home Run Derby. In addition to his dad, Leiter can rely on uncle Mark, a big league pitcher from 1990-2001, and cousin Mark Leiter Jr., a major leaguer since 2017 and currently with the Chicago Cubs.
“They tell me about what they think I need to do a little bit more of, a little bit less of. It’s just another big league mindset,” he said. “They all have different takes. It’s not just hearing it from my dad, anymore.”
Darren’s mother, Melissa, has her fill of baseball.
“It’s tough. It’s such a big part of both of our lives. My mom is like a superhero,” Darren said. “It’s kind of in the blood, I guess. Her son and husband are so deep invested into baseball, it’s kind of tough for her not to be also.”
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