The Rockies beat the Rangers 11-10 on March 16, 2011 in Surprise, Arizona. Craig Baker earned the save in that game.
-ed- Thanks to a lot of regular conversation on the Twittersphere, our own Andrew Fisher was able to develop a rapport with former Rockies' farmhand, Craig Baker. Craig graciously offered to come offer some insight on his minor league career and discussions about said career in an effort to give us all some insight into an often overlooked area. Baker was one of the last cuts in the Fall 2009 and Spring 2010 PuRPs lists. --AMart
Much like most other professional baseball players, I began my baseball career at the ripe age of six years old. After trying my hand at most other sports, I soon realized the only thing I was good at was throwing things in a general direction, and every now and then, catching something headed in my direction. I can't speak for everyone else, but I usually gravitate toward the things that I am good at rather than embarrass myself, so I chose baseball.
After progressing through the youth leagues and high school baseball, I was able to "take my talents" to Cal State Northridge. Some of you may know about "CSUN", but for those of you that don't I will sum up my college career in a single word: dismal. Luckily for me, I was able to piece together a respectable enough junior season to escape the death clutch of CSUN and join the Colorado Rockies organization.
I started my career with the Tri-City Dust Devils in Pasco, Washington (2006). Upon arriving to Pasco- I was informed that I failed my physical with micro tears in my UCL (Ulnar Collateral Ligament, aka "Tommy John"). There, I wallowed in self-pity and worked the Rockies rehab regimen, never seeing game action. In my first spring training, I was told that I would be the number one starter in the Dust Devils rotation the following season.
Being that Tri-City is not a full season team (referred to alongside rookie ball as a short season team), they are required to attend extended spring training in preparation for their upcoming season. Sometimes a player is sent to a full season team from extended spring training to fill in for injuries, released players or other such events.
I had heard horror stories about how miserable extended spring training was so I did everything I could to get out of there with the Asheville squad. Extended Spring Training, for those that do not know, is the time from when regular spring training ends (full season teams "break camp", or leave for their respective cities) until a couple weeks after the amateur baseball draft. The Tri-City roster is mostly made up of players that went through extended spring training or were recently drafted by the Rockies (occasionally a free agent signing).
Basically, players are summoned to early mornings and hot afternoons of practice. You play meaningless games a few days a week, against other organizations (only the Diamondbacks back in the Tucson days), sometimes more than 9 innings to get your pitchers innings. The real delight of these games, is the fresh batch of Latin pitchers brought in throwing harder than most big leaguers, with none of the control said big leaguers have.
Apparently I had pitched well enough to land the closer role in Asheville (2007) and escape extended spring training. Though I was on cloud nine to begin my career and the excitement of escaping extended spring training was fresh on my mind, it all proved to be short-lived. I battled a shoulder injury all season, with horrible mechanics to blame. Finally, after a second full off-season and full season under my belt, I made some progress. Although I was sent back to North Carolina for a second season (2008), I made it a point to make the most of it and not look at it in a negative light. I was placed in the setup role and had a quality season with no setbacks - until I strained my ribs before the first game of the playoffs during conditioning on Augusta, Georgia's horrid field.
I came into the next spring training (2009) being all but certain that I would advance to Modesto and be the setup guy once again. To my surprise, I was put back into the closer role. After another quality season there, I was informed that I was going to the Arizona Fall League, my goal prior to beginning that season.
In the fall league (2009), I was doing fairly well until my final outing when I gave up four or five runs in a third of an inning and doubled my ERA. All of my hard work to do well in the fall league and leave on a high note was spoiled with a little erratic fastball command.
That next spring (2010), I was invited to big league spring training, another goal of mine, and that would prove to do more harm than good for me. I was very excited and eager to impress the coaching staff and veterans, so much so that I began to do things differently than what had got me there. Somewhere inside that month and a half I had changed my throwing motion and took it to Tulsa with me. I could feel things were different and I woke up one day to my elbow swollen about the size of a grapefruit (no exaggeration here). I spent most of what was ultimately my last professional season on the disabled list. The next spring (2011), I was relieved of my duties in the Rockies organization.
Long story short, I basically battled injury and age throughout my career but managed to reach the AA level, receive a big league spring training invite and participate in the Arizona Fall League.
Although I didn't ever achieve my main goal of pitching at the big league level, I certainly got to experience a significant amount as a minor league baseball player. I was able to learn a vast amount about the game of baseball, see the inner workings of a major league organization and come to understand just how crazy the game of baseball really can be. It's a business after all.
Now that you are all sitting there thinking to yourself, "who asked you?" I suppose I can explain that to you also. I enjoy sports and I enjoy writing, so when speaking via twitter (@cbakethirty3) to a Purple Row writer (@PoseidonsFist) we came up with the great idea of me possibly contributing some guest columns. Hopefully I can bring a little different perspective to some of the topics you guys cover and answer questions you all might have.