SAN FRANCISCO – Late afternoon before Game 1 of this National League division series, Dusty Baker walked in.
Hunched shoulders, arms a little too long and bent slightly at the elbows, welcoming smile. Same old Dusty.
It's been a decade since he drove the home team to Game 7 of the World Series, lost that, and went off to spend middle age hoping to make something of ballclubs in Chicago and Cincinnati. For the most part, he's regarded warmly here. And now he's 63 years old, recovering from an irregular heartbeat, from what he called, "my stroke," and out in front of the team hoping to knock off the San Francisco Giants.
He looks thin. Healthy, but thin. He also looks his age, for perhaps the first time in his life. He's reminded, he said, to listen to, "the birds chirping a little more," smiling at such a thought, and to gaze at the moon more often.
"You start seeing some things," he said, "that you don't really pay attention to."
An ailing and then recovering Baker missed 11 Reds games. He managed their last three. He's cut short his pregame media sessions in order to conserve energy, and his wife tries to keep him off the phone as much as possible. His daughter feeds him couscous and oatmeal.
He intends to continue managing baseball, whether that's in Cincinnati or not. He is not under contract for next season, though presumably he would return. The Reds won 97 games in the regular season, and they should have him back.
"I've learned not to worry about something that's really out of your control right now," he said. "The only thing that's in my control is to win ballgames. And God is always taking care of me. I know people don't want to hear that, but God has always taken care of me so why wouldn't he take care of me now.
"I'm not worried and, God willing, I'm going to manage some more because I think I'm getting better. As long as I'm enjoying it and as long as my family doesn't object, I'll be somewhere."
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Certainly, he's happy to be home. These are his people, or were before Saturday, and will be again when this series is over. Besides, he wouldn't miss this.
"I don't know," he said. "I just like the people here. I like the attitude. I like people doing their own thing, but basically not hurtin' anybody. It's just kinda my crowd of people. … We'll see if they still love me on Sunday."
Dusty Baker laughed like this was a very good thing. Like he was just very happy to be here.
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