Baker learned from veteran Kendall
Marlins catcher succeeding after long stay in Minors
MILWAUKEE -- Jason Kendall was the guy, and John Baker had to wait.
Such was the case in Oakland when the Athletics traded for Kendall in 2005, when the savvy veteran was in the midst of a six-year, $60 million dollar deal initially signed with the Pirates in '02. In the meantime, the current Marlins backstop kept on at Triple-A, staying put at that level for three full seasons and parts of two more.
Kendall now is with Milwaukee, Florida's opponent on Wednesday, and while the 34-year-old is lauded locally for handling the Brewers pitching staff, Baker has become the more proficient offensive player.
"One of the main things I learned from him was he was an extremely professional player," Baker said. "He's old school in the sense that he's incredibly tough, he wants to play every day [and] he leads by example. He understands himself as a player, and he knows what he needs to do. He doesn't try to be somebody he's not."
Baker, a second-year player, has continued to prove himself in the Major Leagues despite a stay in the Minors that lasted until he was 27. He had an extra-base hit in each of his last three starts heading into Wednesday's game, and five of his seven starts in May.
Of National League catchers with at least 50 at-bats, Baker entered Wednesday's contest ranked third in OPS (.863), behind David Ross of Atlanta (52 at-bats) and Jesus Flores of Washington (90). Baker has 84 at-bats this season.
Baker also knows the importance of managing a pitching staff, and Kendall once gave him insight to the craft.
"He's really a well-prepared player when it comes to calling games and gaining the trust of a pitching staff. He's one of the best in the Major Leagues," Baker said. "He's the kind of player young players should aspire to be like.
"You want somebody out there that's well prepared and knows what pitches to call and knows how to put guys in the right situations, how to deal with their personalities," Baker added. "When it comes down to it, it's more important for you to call the right pitches and get the pitcher going the right way so that he gets outs throughout the game than it is for you to throw out 50 percent of runners. There's another side to defense, and it's a stat that doesn't get talked about -- it's that idea."
Kendall no longer possesses top-flight offense, entering Wednesday with a .322 on-base percentage and .281 slugging percentage. And he's only caught four of 17 would-be base stealers this season after a renaissance 2008 in that department.
"Does he know what works for some guys [and] doesn't work for other guys? Does he know how to read swings?" Baker said. "All the intangibles are Jason's greatest asset."
And now comes Baker's turn.
"He's getting a chance to be a starter, and he's obviously done very well for himself," Kendall said. "Hard worker -- that's half the battle right there. If you bust your butt, things are going to happen. He's a good story. I'm very happy for him."
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.