The last time we spoke to John Baker he was … well, he was king of the world.
Make that the king of Michigan’s world of high school baseball.
It was last June 13 and Baker had just pitched a masterful 10-inning, five-hitter in leading Hartland to a 2-1 victory over Portage Northern in the longest Division 1/Class A state championship game in history.
Baker threw 132 pitches and struck out 11 that day, capping a fine junior season.
He has a CD of the game and for most kids that would be required daily viewing.
“I didn’t watch it until a while after the championship,” he said. “But I haven’t watched it since.”
Baker hasn’t watched it in months, nor is that game something he dwells upon on a regular basis.
“Now, I don’t think about it as much anymore,” he said. “It’s just because it was last year and we’re starting a new year so we’re trying to do something like that again.”
Doing something like that again is a problematic chore. Bay City Western (2013 and ’14) is the only repeat state champion in Division 1/Class A history.
But if someone can do it, it just might be Hartland. The Eagles lost only two starters from last year’s team and return all of their pitching.
The ace of the staff again is Baker, 6-feet-3, 220-pounds, and he has added some muscle mass. Because of the lovely spring weather we have enjoyed so far, he has pitched only once, going 41/3 scoreless innings, so it is difficult for him to judge how much harder he is throwing than last year.
But Baker doesn’t have to be a power pitcher to be effective. He is capable of throwing a fastball, curveball, change-up and cutter — and he can throw them all for strikes.
“I’m working on all of my pitches,” he said. “Trying to throw everything the best I can. I’m working on my off-speed more and trying to get them perfect.”
Baker wasn’t perfect in the championship game, but he was close.
He was so impressive, Ball State coach Rich Maloney, the former Michigan coach, was in the stands and soon thereafter offered him a scholarship, which he accepted.
It was the perfect ending to what was, for most of last spring, an anything but perfect season.
The Eagles finished 27-16-1 and for the regular season they were just a notch above mediocre.
“A little before the playoffs started we were barely .500,” Baker said. “We just started playing as team and went on a run during the playoffs and everything went our way.”
Especially when Baker was on the mound. When prodded, he will reflect on the championship game.
“It was just a crazy experience,” he said. “I actually don’t remember that much. There was so much adrenaline or something. It was one of the craziest games I’ve been in, probably.”
After Baker retired the side in the top of the 10th inning he was facing a no-decision. The 30-out rule was going to prohibit him from taking the mound in the 11th.
But the bottom three Hartland batters strung together three consecutive singles to score the winning run and hand Baker the much-deserved victory.
“I guess after the seventh inning I kind of had faith in my team that we’d end up scoring a run and get the walk-off,” Baker said. “But that just didn’t happen until the 10th inning.”
The fact that it did has given Baker and his teammates a bit of new found confidence entering this season.
“That’s always in the mind,” he said. “I’ll always remember it. It’s crazy to say that we won a state championship.
“It would be fun if we got back again.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.