“I really enjoyed my time in Washington,” 72-year-old, Houston Astros’ manager Dusty Baker told Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle of the time he spent managing the Nationals back in 2016-17. “The two years I was there was probably some of the most enjoyable times I’ve ever had in baseball, on the field and off the field.”
It wasn’t just the teams he managed, both of which went to the postseason and lost in the NLDS, but the nation’s capital as a whole appealed to Baker.
“I always liked the diversity, the people, the education level that was there. I got along great with the organization, got along great with [GM Mike] Rizzo, all the people there.”
His contract was not renewed after his second season on the bench in D.C., and Baker was out of the game for two years before he returned to manage the Houston Astros. He’s back with his new club this weekend for the ‘Stros’ first visit to D.C. since the 2019 World Series.
“Why they didn’t re-sign me, I don’t know,” Baker told the Chronicle reporter when asked about his exit.
“It wasn’t Rizzo because he was just the one that had to tell me the news. That’s in the past.”
But of course, with Baker back in Nationals Park this weekend, the past is coming up again, as it did for manager Davey Martinez, who took over in ‘18, and led the team to a title in ‘19, before two years of tough going which led to a reboot the club kicked off with their sell-off of expiring deals and some of the players who helped bring the championship back home to Washington for the first time since 1924 at last July 30th’s trade deadline.
In his pregame press conference before the three-game series with the Astros in Nationals Park, Martinez talked at length about his history with Baker, from time they spent together in San Francisco as player and manager, respectively, to this day as the two remain friends off the field and competitors on it. It never got awkward for them.
“We’ve stayed — like I said, we’ve remained friends throughout the years,” Martinez said.
“What we do on the field is something different than the relationship we have off the field.
“We share a passion for wine, we share a passion for fishing, so like I said, I’ve learned a lot, not only in the baseball world, but who he is and who he perceives [himself] to be helped me become the person that I am as well.”
How has Baker influenced the younger manager?
“Just the constant positivity,” the relentlessly positive Martinez said. “That’s Dusty. When things go down he finds a way to lift you up. I learned a lot from him in that respect. Not chasing the game, letting the game come to him, I learned that from Dusty as well, just watching him and listening to him speak. He’s awesome.
“I got to learn a lot too this Spring Training from his son, Darren, so it was fun.”
Darren Baker, 23, was drafted by the Nationals in the 10th Round in 2021, and he’s currently hitting .286 at High-A in the club’s farm system. What did he learn from the younger Baker?
“Just a little bit about how his dad taught him how to play the game,” Martinez said. “Taught him the right way. Darren is a true professional. He knows how to play the game, and it’s fun to watch him play, and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow and mature.”
Getting to compete against his friend, in a series which meant something to the returning Baker, meant a lot to Martinez too.
“It’s actually a big deal for me too,” he said. “I played for him, I’ve known him for a very long time. He’s a great man, he really is. Not only just as a manager, but as a person, and I truly learned a lot from him, not only playing for him, but over the years, and we’ve always kept in contact, he’ll text me, I text him, but he’s truly an unbelievable person, and the record for a manager speaks for itself. He’s definitely a players’ manager, but he understands the game very well, and it’s going to be fun to go see him out there today, and see him in front of our fans, who — he was here, and I know when he was here people really liked him a lot.”
“Most of the time,” Baker joked, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “they seem like they appreciate me more when I came back than when I left.”
“It’s going to be fun to go out there today,” Martinez added. “Just like it was last week with Joe [Maddon], go out there and go head-to-head with our two teams.”