by The Republican Sports Desk
Saturday July 11, 2009, 5:17 PM
GREENFIELD, MA. – Brad Baker is pitching again.
Yes that Brad Baker, the former wunderkind from Pioneer Valley High School in Northfield who pretty much any baseball fan in the area remembers hearing about.
The same Brad Baker who was a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox and made it within inches of breaking into the show with the San Diego Padres in 2004 before losing his velocity and retiring from professional baseball in 2007.
The lanky right-hander is back on the mound for Teddy Bear Pools & Spas of the Tri-County League and back to making Western Massachusetts hitters miss for the first time since he graduated from Pioneer in 1999.
The rave reviews come from the opposing dugouts as they did in Friday night’s matchup with Manny’s TV, where fans could overhear things like “that hook is falling off the table,” and “that changeup is a nasty, nasty pitch.”
Despite the fact that Manny’s won the game 4-0, their shortstop Greg Vouros had good things to say about his former high-school opponent.
“He throws strikes, he’s very accurate,” Vouros said. “His changeup was excellent.”
After Baker retired from baseball in 2007, he took a year away from the game, but as the summer of 2009 approached, he realized something was missing from his life.
“It was good to get that time off to relax, get away from baseball for a little bit,” Baker said. “I’ve been working at it since I was eight or nine years old but I missed competing.”
Baker, now 28, pitched for minor league teams in three times zones and eight different leagues before calling it quits after splitting time in 2007 with the Rochester Red Wings of the Triple A International League and the New Britain Rock Cats of the Double A Eastern League.
“I finally decided enough is enough and it was time to give it up,” Baker said.
Baker, who began his career as a starter but later moved to the closer’s role, had the best year of his career in 2004, while in the Padres organization. But as luck would have it, the big leagues just weren’t in the cards for him.
“That was my opportunity to make it,” Baker said. “But for just a fluke reason, nobody got hurt, San Diego’s bullpen was stacked, and there was no opportunities to move.”
In 2006, Baker reported for spring training with the Atlanta Braves and the velocity on his fastball that had always been there for him had suddenly vanished.
“I left in the fall of ’05 throwing in the 90s. and in spring training I couldn’t throw over 85 mph,” Baker said. “For two years it was like that. I have no idea why it happened.”
His professional baseball career over, Baker has taken advantage of the scholarship program provided by the Red Sox, who are paying for him to take classes at Greenfield Community College, where he plans to stay and get his associate’s degree before transferring to University of Massachusetts.
With his summertime free from a full load of classes, Baker decided to come back and pitch along with continuing his passions for golfing at Oak Ridge in Gill and fishing the Deerfield and Green rivers.
“I’m either fishing or golfing every single day,” he said. “Basically wherever there’s a fish, I’m going to catch it.” Even with all the free time, though, Baker sometimes misses his old life.
“There’s nothing better than waking up every day and playing a game and getting paid to do it,” he said. “Going out there in front of all the fans, it was fun.”