February 24, 2003
MESA, Ariz. -- Darren Baker has new red wrist bands, a new blue belt, and even some black cleats with blue stripes -- everything the boy needs to complete his tiny new Cubs uniform.
The 4-year-old son of new Chicago manager Dusty Baker may be banned from the dugout during games for the next 10 years, but he is still going to be around. The rule says nothing about batting practice.
Baseball implemented an age requirement of 14 for batboys, often referred to as the "Darren Baker rule," after the boy was nearly run over at the plate when he wandered into the action during Game 5 of the World Series.
"That's not fair," Darren says of the mandate.
"How come?" asks his dad.
"Mommy said so."
In the World Series, Darren was so excited to retrieve the bat of his favorite player, Kenny Lofton, that he nearly got himself hurt. San Francisco first baseman J.T. Snow scored, then scooped up the boy before David Bell came charging across the plate.
Darren was fine moments later, sticking his finger in his nose for a national TV audience.
Darren will watch games with mom Melissa from the stands or the families' lounge.
"He doesn't have to batboy," Baker says. "He enjoys it, but he doesn't have to do it. He will enjoy just being around the ballpark."
Darren, all 38 pounds and 43 inches, has been waiting all winter to take a few swings at spring training, to run the basepaths, field ground balls and make some pitches under the direction of his dad, and he wants it to be just right. He wears a gold chain around his neck, like dad.
He kicks dirt off the plate before he gets into his batting stance -- this day it is his own stance, though he often imitates players such as Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent or Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Darren's a left-handed hitter, but throws with his right.
Darren is near tears when his parents say he has had enough baseball for one day. The boy is exhausted, and Melissa knows he needs a long nap.
"We'll come back the next day and the next day," Baker promises.