VIERA, Fla. (AP) _ Dusty Baker has seen and done a lot during his lifetime in baseball. He hadn’t spent two full seasons out of the game since he began managing in 1993.
Faced with the reality of coming back from that layoff, the Washington Nationals’ new manager sought out advice from a coach who has experienced a similar situation. Baker reached out to three-time Super Bowl-winning coach Joe Gibbs, who had more than a decade between his two stints with the Redskins.
“He was very, very, very helpful because I was trying to figure out who I could talk to that could sort of direct me that had been through what I was about to go through,” Baker said Friday on the eve of the Nationals’ first pitchers and catchers workout at spring training. “I called him and he called me back and he prayed with me on the phone. I thought that was a heck of a gesture by somebody that I had never met before.”
Gibbs retired in 1993 and moved into the auto racing business by founding Joe Gibbs Racing. Eleven NFL seasons passed before Gibbs at age 63 returned to coach the Redskins in 2004.
Baker, now 66, only missed two major league seasons between when his time with the Cincinnati Reds ended and his Nationals tenure began.
“He’d been out of the game 11 years he told me,” Baker said. “Eleven years _ I was out two. The names and places and faces have changed. There’s more sabermetrics now than when I left. Imagine how it was for Mr. Gibbs.”
Technological and other advancements changed football drastically in over a decade, including replay reviews and coach’s challenges. Baseball also has a challenge system that wasn’t in place when Baker last managed.
Gibbs struggled with challenging plays, and Baker has said he’ll have to learn how to best handle those situations. Off the field, Baker _ who got involved in solar and wind power and jumped into the wine business _ needed some tips on balancing things.
“I was asking him, `How do you put your business to the side, or don’t you?”’ Baker said. “Because I spent a lot of time and effort and money getting my businesses together thinking I might not be back in baseball. He gave me some great insight.”
Baker asked Nationals vice president of clubhouse operations and team travel Rob McDonald to get in touch with Gibbs through his racing outfit. Gibbs was also in Florida but just a little busy.
Gibbs said, “Tell Dusty I’ll call him on Monday’ because they were trying to get the pole position at the Daytona 500,” Baker recalled. “They had more pressing” issues.
The two talked Monday and Friday Baker was in his manager’s office getting ready for spring training. He did make the most of his time away from baseball by doing things like being in his daughter’s wedding and traveling a bit.
“I was still watching games. I’ll always watch games,” Baker said. “Most of the time when I’m out, if something happened along the way that I didn’t really appreciate or like, it worked out where I was supposed to be where I was supposed to be.”