Dusty Baker woke up on October 13th and went through his usual morning routine.
“I got up, said my prayers like I always do. Got a cup of coffee. And then packed for Chicago,” Baker said.
Washington and Los Angeles played Game 5 of the NLDS that night, but it was the Dodgers, not the Nationals, who moved on the NLCS with the Cubs, as LA took the decisive game of the Division Series.
Fans the nation’s capital once again went home disappointed after the third division title and third first-round loss in the last five years.
Baker was asked in his post game press conference that night about his pregame comments about packing for the trip to Chicago.
“You said you packed your bags for Chicago,” one reporter started. “I'm wondering what it will be like to unpack them?”
“Well, it's not going to be very pleasant, because I'm not ready to go home,” Baker said.
“I haven't been home since February, but I would have gladly stayed a couple more weeks.
“No, it's not going to be pleasant, really. I don't know when I'm leaving. I don't know when.
“I'm ready to go home to my house and family, but I'm not ready to, you know, for the season to end.”
Baker led the Nationals to 95 wins and a division crown, but failed to advance to the National League Championship Series, joining Davey Johnson and Matt Williams, who led the 2012 and ‘14 Nationals, respectively, to postseason appearances but failed to advance.
He didn’t go right home to California after the Nationals were eliminated, he explained this week, when Baker spoke to reporters at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center at the Winter Meetings
“I took a week before I went home, and I reflected mostly while I was packing,” Baker said.
“Then when I went home, I was watching the rest of the playoffs and the World Series and I was ready to go home because I hadn't been home in eight months. That's a long time. I was ready to go home but not yet, because we had some things that I still wanted to do. I wasn't ready to go home baseball-wise. I was ready to go home for home and that's understandable, I think.”
Baker said he did enjoy his first summer in D.C., getting to know the city, sometimes on long, far-ranging drives toward Nationals Park. [ed. note - “He got lost a couple times on the way to the park and told reporters of his wanderings when he did finally arrive.”]
“I've enjoyed my time here. This is probably one of the best stops I've had outside of San Francisco, which is home. I really like D.C.
“I like the surrounding area, I like the people here, I like the educational level here.
“I liked everything about here, other than sometimes it rained a little too much, the rain delays. But other than that, it was great.
“I had plenty of time while I was packing to -- and I pack by myself, usually I have somebody come and help me pack but I wanted to take my time, think about things, go to the stadium and just hoping this year's outcome will be different.”
He is entering the second year of the 2-year/$4M contract he signed last winter. Baker talked in an MLB Network Radio interview this week about getting back at it with Mike Rizzo, the Nationals’ GM, who was hard at work soon after the end of the 2016 season, trying to build a roster that can finally bring another World Series to Washington.
Baker said he liked Rizzo’s aggressive approach to his job of constructing the roster.
“I’m an aggressive person. Period. I’m a person that likes to be around people that are progressive and like to make things happen. You can either wait for things to happen or you can help make things happen. I like working with [Rizzo]. He’s a former player. He’s a combination of new times and old times, old school and new school. Sometimes there are times when you depend on the sabermetric guys and there are times when you depend on your own feelings and past. It’s a pleasure to work with him because I know how badly he wants to win. He works closely with our front office people, with our owners to try to make this happen. They want to win, we want to win, this city wants to win big time. We want to put our mark on this team, because we’re a new organization, so to speak, we’re only ten years old in Washington and we’re trying to build some new fans here.”
It’s been twelve seasons since baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005, of course.
Baker said it’s still building towards something bigger both on and off the field.
“We’re trying to get the young fans,” he explained.
“The young fans are the ones who bring their parents to the ballpark. I tell them, the parents drive the kids to the ballpark, but the kids bring the parents to the ballpark.
“So, we’re trying to build our fan base and get some sort of tradition here in Washington.”
Baker said that after a year together he was hoping some of the things he’d tried to instill in his players would pay off in his second season in D.C.
“You can't do everything in just one year,” he said Wednesday. “So this year I think we will be better, better with our staff, be better with the team.
“They know me, I know them, you know, like I had heard about certain guys, they had heard about me from other guys, but now we know each other. I think being familiar with each other will translate into even better performance.”
His predecessors on the bench failed to lead their teams to the postseason in their own second seasons.
Baker said this week, that he didn’t see the need to change much, and saw room for improvement in 2017.
“We won 95 games and we had three or four guys with years that weren't indicative of them, you know? Quite honestly, I wanted to win 100 games. I won 103 games my first year and I remember telling [Tony] La Russa that's what I wanted to do this year. And I didn't tell you guys that because you would have written this guy is crazy already.”
He didn’t say how many he wants to win this season. He did explain the La Russa reference.
“It was a situation of — I remember LaRussa [in 1993] telling me, ‘You don't know what you've done.’
“And I said, ‘No. What did I do?’
“And he said, ‘You won 100 games.’
“And I was like, ‘So? Why can't I do that every year?’ Nineteen years later, still haven't done it but I got quite a few 90s in there.”