Baseball / Sports

Memorial Day special to Marlins' Baker

WASHINGTON -- Miami Marlins utility infielder Jeff Baker felt more pride than usual in wearing a major league uniform Monday.

In a Memorial Day salute to the military, major leaguers sported camouflage patterns on their caps and in the jersey names and numbers. The gesture touched feelings close to the heart for the son of a career military officer.

"The biggest thing for me is growing up in a military family you kind of realize that every day is basically Memorial Day," Baker said before the Marlins opened a three-game series at Nationals Park. "You have friends and family that are affected, whether they're overseas now or someone gave up their life for us to live the way the way we live today. To come out here and play baseball for a living, I'm very appreciative of it."

It was particularly meaningful for Baker to have the game in the nation's capital not far from his offseason home in Virginia. His father Larry, who spent 23 years in the Army and retired as a full colonel, teaches at Woodbridge (Va.) Gar-Field High School, where Jeff was the Virginia Player of the Year in 1999. The elder Baker, whose expertise included nuclear weapons and also taught at West Point, was at Monday's game.

Baker, an active supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project, is appreciative of Major League Baseball's initiatives in recent years to raise awareness and benefit veterans and active military personnel and their families. MLB has provided more than $30 million to the Welcome Back Veterans charity since 2008.

Born in Bad Kissingen, West Germany, where his father was based, Baker, 32, had the "Army brat" upbringing that took the family to temporary residences throughout the world, from West Point to Key West, Fla., to the Middle East.

He doesn't remember his birthplace, a U.S. base after it was taken from the Nazis, but has clear memories of living in Egypt, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.

Soccer was more commonly played than baseball by kids on those bases. But Baker recalls T-ball on the sand in Abu Dhabi.

"That was interesting . . . you look around and the right fielder is making sand castles and not really paying too much attention to playing the game," he said, adding about his upbringing, "It's one of those things when you're going through it you don't realize it's not the norm. I thought it was cool.

"You're in Egypt, you go see the pyramids, you go hang out with the camels."

Baker's upbringing did prepare him for the nomadic life of professional baseball that has seen him play in 13 cities.

"When you're in the minor leagues you're a year at one stop, a year at the next stop. You have teammates that are Japanese, Dominican, whatever it is, it allows you to fit in seamlessly with a lot of things," he said.

WOLF TO START

Despite getting knocked around in his first Marlins start, veteran left-hander Randy Wolf will get another on Saturday against the Braves. Wolf gave up six runs (four earned) and nine hits in five innings Sunday against the Brewers. Manager Mike Redmond said pitch location got Wolf in trouble.

"He was up in the zone," Redmond said. "He's a guy that relies on his off-speed pitches, being able to command his changeup and curveball."

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