Following a 19-year career as a major leaguer and a few years as a coach, Dusty Baker managed his first game in the majors in 1993.
This afternoon in the nation’s capital, 24 years later, the now-67-year-old skipper will start his 22nd season on the bench.
Baker starts his second season as the Washington Nationals’ skipper four wins away from passing Jim Leyland (1,769) for 16th on the all-time win list for managers.
He’s behind only San Francisco Giants’ skipper Bruce Bochy (1,789) in wins among active MLB managers.
Before this afternoon’s season opener in the nation’s capital, Baker was asked how things have changed over the twenty-four years since his first game as a manager.
“Well, from the first time I was a manager, I knew I could do it, nobody else thought I could do it, but that’s been the story of my life since I was a little kid,” Baker said.
“I always thought I could do something and other people thought I couldn’t.
“It just doesn’t seem like it’s been that many years, I didn’t even know how many it’s been until you just told me right then.”
He said his thoughts as he prepares for yet another year on the bench tend to be about the race he and his team are about to run.
“You think about what the season will bring and the challenges that you had in the past years and every year is different,” he explained.
“The challenges are different. You think about the race, it’s the great race.
“It’s the race of endurance, it’s the race of only the strong, and only the strong mentally and physically survive this race.
“This is the marathon of all marathons. You just think about the challenges of the season that you’re going to have to deal with and that there’s only going to be one winner and you always think it’s going to be you and you want to run the race according to how the Lord wants the race to be run.
“You run for a cause and purpose and you play it for the people, the people of the country and the people of D.C. This is what you’re playing for.
“It’s a beautiful game. Now, you come and ask me about it in August and it will be a little different, but today is Opening Day.”
Baker said he woke up hours before his alarm was set to wake him this morning, excited for what lies ahead.
“I set my alarm for 6:30 and I was up at 3:30, 4:00. I wasn’t excited, but something was up. Something woke me up. There’s nothing like Opening Day. It’s great.”
He’s also had to address his teams twenty-two times now. So what, if any, message did he have for his players this time around?
“Just tell them -- I thought about what I was going to tell them, but I never tell them what I think about it, I just tell them what comes out of my heart, really. I just want them to play as blue collar workers. Play as if their — the way their mom and dad went to work for them. That’s what it’s all about. If you go to work every day and you play hard every day, then more than likely — there aren’t teams that play hard every day. There are teams and players that take at bats off, take pitches off, or innings off, so just don’t take anything off, just go out there and play hard every day.”