Baker was already waiting for the team when they got to California, after attending his son’s high school graduation.
He was in full-on, San Francisco-based name-dropping mode when he shared a story about some advice he got about staying focused on the road.
“Bill Walsh used to tell me all the time, this is a business trip, not a pleasure trip,” Baker said.
“This West Coast swing has been the nemesis of many teams and many organizations, and not only distractions, but then you’ve got — I was waking up every day at 4:30 in the morning, you know, and I’m sure these guys — and I’m three days ahead of them, and I just urged them to get their rest and to make sure they eat right and get sleep.”
Whatever the Nationals did to stay sharp out West, it worked. They lost one in Oakland and the series finale in Los Angeles, but finished the nine-game trip 7-2, with a 21-12 record on the road thus far in 2017.
“We started Spring Training, we had talked about trying to be the best road club in the league,” Baker told reporters before last night’s game against the Baltimore Orioles, on what was originally supposed to be an off day.
“It starts with a thought and it ends at action,” he said of the road mindset.
“You know you’re going to have to win some one-run games or really have a lot of leads going into the ninth inning cause they have the last at bats, and hopefully a more than two, or a three-run lead to take some pressure of your bullpen.”
Baker said he liked that way his team has handled their road work this season.
“These guys are just playing ball. Nobody is complaining about travel. Nobody is complaining about anything.
“We try to stress to them that this is a business trip, on the road and not a pleasure trip — I mean, if you can if you can put some pleasure in there too, but business is No. 1.”
The team arrived back in the nation’s capital at 2:00 AM on Thursday, so Baker decided to rest some of his regulars in the make-up game against the Nationals’ regional rivals.
His thinking, in playing some bench guys against the Orioles, was to, “try to get some fresh bodies in there,” he explained.
“I told them yesterday which guys were going to be off, guys who are playing a lot, guys who are a bit older. This game here was supposed to be an off day, and so you start getting your mind towards the off days, you know, you say like, ‘Six more days, or five more days,’ and then you use your bullpen to coincide with the off days, so this kind of messed up our plans.
“Now we’ve got 21 days in a row, so you’ve got to spot guys, you have to try to get the best lineup that we have out there to give our pitchers the best chance, and the freshest lineup that you can get out there.
“It’s quite a challenge here, like I said, it’s 21 days in a row, then we have an off day and then the next off day I think is the All-Star break. I looked at the schedule and I think we’re like 36 out of 38 days, or something like that, so it’s a pretty full month.”
In spite of the travel and the makeshift lineup, the Nationals beat the Orioles, 6-1 last night, with a dominant performance from Joe Ross on the mound, contributions from Stephen Drew and Adam Lind, and three-hit nights from Trea Turner and Bryce Harper.
Baker liked what he saw.
“I’m very impressed,” he told reporters, “because this team comes to play and they don’t complain. They don’t complain about anything, which is what I like, because I really don’t like complainers, my dad didn’t like complainers, so these guys — they realize the job at hand and they’re doing it.”