Nationals manager Dusty Baker is known for his experience in the major leagues as both player and manager, the people he knows, and the things he’s done and seen. Baker has so much experience that his briefings with the media are more so known as “story times” than actual press conferences.
Everything from his time with Hank Aaron and the Braves to playing for the Dodgers and winning a World Series to his relationship with rock legend Jimi Hendrix is fair game at any given moment during a Baker briefing.
And so of course it was appropriate for Baker to be asked about his return to West Palm Beach, where he trained with the Braves as a player and will now lead the Nationals in his second spring training as manager, in his first “story time” of the new season. What’s different about the town between now and when he was here in the ’60s?
“I don’t know my way around anymore ‘cause it’s a totally different town than when I was here,” Baker told members of the media at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches yesterday. “But I’m gonna go down Blue Heron Blvd., Military Trail and go see old West Palm. We used to stay at the Rosemary down on some place. Actually, I signed in ‘67, that August played a couple weeks and I went home back to school ‘cause everybody had to go to school then or join the military because Vietnam was hot.
“So I was in school and then I came out for my first spring training in spring break that April for a week, and that was my first spring training. I had a week of spring training then (went) back home, I remember. Yeah, I remember big time. And I think that was right after Martin Luther King got killed. And so, that was my first time in minor league camp and I think my only time, I think, in minor league camp. Man, it was like, it’s not like you see now. It’s totally, totally, totally different, you know? And we didn’t have a bunch of fields.
“It’s sort of walking back through time and in your life, I was thinking about it. I was 18 years old, 19 years old, so it’s been almost 50 years.”
Fifty years makes a big difference when it comes to the facilities you have. The construction of the brand-new The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches isn’t completely finished, but Baker said it’s close enough to being done that they have everything they need to begin workouts. The incomplete facilities will even provide the Nationals with a better opportunity to get their work in, according to the skipper.
“I love the facilities,” Baker said. “I tell you, this is state-of-the-art. It reminds me of when the Reds and the Indians shared a complex, a brand-new complex just like this. So this is the second new complex that I’ve been a part of. And I tell you, it’s gonna be easier to do our work. The fields are in great condition.
“I mean sure, they still got some things that they still have to zero in on, but it’s outstanding. And as far as sharing a complex, I mean it’s like Houston’s really not here yet, even though they’re just on the other side of the berm. So it’s gonna make it easier for us to get our work in.”
Despite the continuing construction, the Nats are ready to get workouts started.
“Everything we need is pretty much ready,” said Baker. “And you know, the guys walking around are still doing some things. But most of them are in the stadium, which we’re not gonna be there until (Feb. 28). And so yeah, things (are) looking good. I still see people wondering around. Great weight room, even gonna have a swimming pool out there. That’s really state-of-the-art. So it’s gonna be fun I think.”
Unfortunately, the one thing Baker might not be able to do in the new West Palm Beach is a pastime he enjoyed with Aaron back in their spring training days: fishing.
“Hey man, I was fishing every day,” Baker recalled. “After practice? Oh yeah, we’d fish on the golf course and we’d fish this whole, I forget where it was off Military Trail, some like canal, it might’ve been a canal. And then one year, I rented a place there, I think I was newly married, and it was like a bungalow and I fished every night. It was on Lake Worth.
“I was trying to live on Lake Worth this time, but I couldn’t get a place, ‘cause I wanted to fish at night. But I’m not doing bad. I’m on the beach, so what the heck?”