VIERA, Fla. — Dusty Baker understood why Joe Gibbs would have to call him back.
“He said, ‘Tell Dusty I’ll call him on Monday,’” Baker said. “They were trying to get the pole position at the Daytona 500. They had more pressing stuff to do.”
Baker reached out to the former Washington Redskins coach for some advice. Joe Gibbs Racing took precedent over Baker’s call, but he was able to connect with the three-time Super Bowl champion on Monday. He had specific questions for Gibbs, who had more than a decade between coaching jobs with Washington, about what to do with other life components when returning to a team.
“How do you put your business to the side or don’t you?” Baker said. “Because I spent a lot of time and effort and money getting my businesses together thinking I might not be back in baseball. He gave me some great insight.”
Baker said he had never met Gibbs, but that when he called back, they prayed together on the phone.
“I thought that was a heck of a gesture by somebody I had never met,” Baker said.
Other highlights from Baker during his first meeting with the media at spring training:
— His biggest concern through spring training is health. “I know it sounds like an old cliche. But, it’s health. Especially with the track record the Nationals have had the last couple years. We want to leave here ready and healthy.”
— Baker is trying to become acclimated to the grounds and people at Space Coast Stadium, and even the players. He has a laminated card with player names and numbers on it. “I’m curious to see a lot of people I really don’t know. I know a few of the players. But, a lot of the guys, I just know them on paper, know them by stats. I just want to take the time to get to know them personally and as players. … Sometimes, I got to let them walk past me, then (leaning back) I can say, ‘Hey, Mike. What’s going on?’”
— Punctuality is important to Baker at camp. That’s not surprising given his military background. But, he also said camp will be “free-flowing.”
— Dealing with the spread-out setup of spring training in Florida will take some getting used to. “The last time I was in Florida, it was with the [Cincinnati] Reds in Sarasota. Before that, boy, before that, I was with the [Los Angeles] Dodgers as a player. It’s a little bit different with the wind blowing and adjust with the rain, adjust with the bus trips. It’s a bit of an adjustment for me.”
— Baker mentioned that when he was with the Dodgers, they had to check for snakes and alligators in the dugout.
— When assessing competitive positions — he was asked specifically about Danny Espinosa, Stephen Drew and Trea Turner all vying for the shortstop job — Baker said he’ll take the spring, plus the past, into consideration. “I’m wide open. I’m going into it with eyes wide open because I haven’t seen Drew in years, and I hadn’t seen Turner, [who] I’m very excited about to see play. I was a young player like him at some point in time also. I haven’t seen Espinosa play short, at all. I remember him from second base. Like I said, this is kind of new for me. I want to see it with my own eyes. I’m going into it with my eyes wide open and we want to take the best 25 that we can. That’s why we’re here for spring training. But, I try not to use just spring training as a deciding factor on who we keep, either. Got to use background. Some guys may be a slow starter. Some guys are fast starters. Generally speaking, if an older and younger player compete only on spring training alone, usually the younger player usually wins because it take him less time. It’s like a new car to get warm versus an older car. It takes a little time to warm up. My car might take a couple months. My job is not only as a manager. My job is to be a master scout on what I think and what I project.”
— Baker’s son is wearing Bryce Harper’s jersey to school. He also has an interest in prospects. “My son wants to know if I’ve met [Lucas] Giolito yet.”
— He’s an optimist, to say the least. “I think this is going to be the most fun two years of my and [the players’] career, hopefully.”