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They might be Giants: Players' sons make Pac Bell their playground

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — Darren Baker is shorter than the average bat, and his jersey is so big and bunched together that it looks as if the sewn-on "GIANTS" lettering is missing its "T."

The 31/2-year-old son of manager Dusty Baker hustles to the batter's box, grabs a player's bat and struggles to return the equipment to the dugout. He usually gets a pat on the helmet or a high-five. Sometimes, he even does a pretty good imitation of each player's batting stance.

Not a bad gig.

The children of the San Francisco Giants, scurrying around in their tiny uniforms, have made Pacific Bell Park their own playground.

Besides Darren, the sons of Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and Shawon Dunston also play beside the big boys. But Darren is the most noticeable of the bunch.

Baker had no intention of his son getting this close to the game so soon — hoping to delay it at least until Darren was 5. But Darren made that impossible.

"I told him first when he was 5, but I knew I couldn't hold him off that long," said Baker, who led the Giants into Game 3 of the World Series last night against the Anaheim Angels.

"He told me 'Dad, I'll hustle, and I know what I'm doing. I think I'm their good-luck charm.' So, then I told him he could do it when he was 4, and he asked me every day if he was 4 yet. He knows his birthday is Feb. 11. So, I let him do it one Sunday."

That was about two months ago, and Darren has been just as much of a hit at Pac Bell as a Bonds home run ever since.

Players would get a couple hits and instantly give credit to Darren. They begged Baker to bring him back again, and the Giants weren't the only ones who wanted him there. Fans would, too.

"They would tell me, 'He's 4-0 you know!' " Baker said.

Baker, in his 10th season managing the Giants, has been receptive to having children in the clubhouse and on the field, rotating them through the bat-boy experience. Rarely is there such on-field participation by players' children in other ballparks.

"He's awesome, he's our good-luck charm," right fielder Reggie Sanders said of Darren.

Bonds is happy to have his 12-year-old son, Nikolai, around and often kisses him after he homers.

"It probably makes it more special to me than it does to him," Bonds said. "When my dad played, we weren't allowed to be on the field. You had to be a certain age. You weren't allowed to practice with the team. My dad had to bring us out earlier before the team came out to take extra batting practice on the field.

"The Giants organization is just a family-oriented organization that allows the kids to participate. Dusty is a manager that sees the relaxation of the players when they do have their kids around. It takes a little bit of stress off and allows us to not only be able to play the game but be able to enjoy it with our families."

Owner Peter Magowan believes the family atmosphere makes players want to stay with the Giants.

"I think it's a big part of it," he said. "As an organization, we've tried to be family-oriented. It works both ways. The players give back to us more than they do in other organizations because of that."

Darren mimics his father constantly; perhaps, he's a manager in the making.

"He puts his hands behind his back, he points to the bullpen, he puts his arms on the back of the chair like he's managing," Baker said. "He asks if it's the ninth inning yet and isn't it time for Robb Nen.

"I don't know how tall he is. I have to mark him every two weeks because he wants to know if all that broccoli he's eating is helping him grow."

Is the little guy ever a distraction to him during the game?

Baker tries to minimize their interaction, saying, "I've got to be in the game."

But he sure likes having Darren around.

"That's cool," Baker said. "He wants to play ball every day. He slides on cement and has torn up 100 pairs of pants."

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