October 1 - One of Northern Virginia’s most-decorated baseball players added to his accolades over the weekend, when Gar-Field graduate Jeff Baker was inducted into Clemson University’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Named as the Washington Post’s All-Met Player of the Year in 1999, Baker was a member of USA Baseball and a two-time first-team All-America selection while at Clemson before an 11-year Major League career that ended in 2015.
Baker, 37, joined nine others in being honored at halftime of Clemson’s home football game on Saturday against Syracuse. During his three seasons at the Atlantic Coast Conference school, he hit .334 with a school-record 59 home runs and helped the Tigers reach the College World Series in 2000 and 2002. His 226 RBI ranks second all-time at the school.
Born while his father, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Larry Baker, was stationed in Germany, Baker’s family settled in Virginia after s number of moves throughout his childhood, including a second overseas stint in the Middle East. It’s there where he first learned the game from his father, who played at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
"At the time, I didn’t really know it wasn’t normal just because that’s what I had done my whole life whether it was living on a base say in Norfolk or being up at West Point or Key West or whatever it was,” Baker told Fox Sports in 2015. “It’s just what I knew. I didn’t realize it was different and not everyone else was doing it. It was cool.”
While at Gar-Field, he helped the Indians to three Group AAA state tournament appearances and capped his four-year prep career by hitting .537 with 12 home runs and going 9-0 with 111 strikeouts in 70 innings as a senior in 1999.
Baker was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the fourth round that June, but spurned a reported $500,000 signing bonus to honor his scholarship at Clemson. That summer, he earned MVP honors while hitting .481 at the 18U World Championships, and in the gold medal game, hit a two-out go-ahead single in the eighth inning of Team USA’s 10-9 win over Taiwan.
In a story by MLB.com prior to the 2002 MLB Draft, he credited his four summers spent with USA Baseball - one each with the 16U and 18U teams and two with the Collegiate National Team - with preparing him for the the college and pro level. "It just elevates your game and your level of competition and the way you want to play," he said. "Those are some of the best guys I've faced all year. It just helps you elevate. Even if you don't perform the way you want to, you're out there seeing it. It's been huge. The guys you're playing with and the coaches are top-notch."
After three years, Baker departed Clemson when he was drafted in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies, who he would play with for five seasons and help advance to the World Series in 2007. The infielder would then play for four seasons with the Chicago Cubs and one each with Detroit, Atlanta and Texas before signing with Miami, where he played his final two seasons.
Baker hit .264 with 484 career hits in the big leagues. His best season came in 2008, when he hit .268 with 12 homers and 48 RBI in 104 games with the Rockies.
Photo of Jeff Baker courtesy of Clemson Athletics