Pilots' Baker getting attention of pro scouts
Pilots baseball pitcher Kevin Baker is turning the heads of pro scouts with a 91 mph fastball and slider from the mound. By the way that he pitches, you wouldn’t know that he also manages the rigorous schedule of a University of Portland junior nursing major on top of his game and training schedule.
“It’s hard, but it’s not impossible,” Baker said. “It’s perfectly challenging. (Baseball) actually has helped me on a school basis. It’s helped me become more disciplined with my school work. With baseball, it’s like I have to get work done now or else I’ll never get it done.”
Coming out of high school, Baker wanted to play baseball in college. But studying nursing had been Baker’s priority since he took an athletic trainer’s kinesiology course. After evaluating his options, he decided that UP would give him the best opportunity to study nursing and maybe play Division I baseball.
But eventually his plans changed, and now a junior, Baker sees baseball as his future and nursing as his safety net.
“I was really fascinated by (nursing),” Baker said. “It’s kind of strange that I would have nursing to fall back on.”
Baker tried to walk onto the Pilots baseball team as a freshman but was cut. He shrugged it off and decided that it wasn’t meant to be. But watching the games that year made him realize how much he missed the sport and wanted to play. So, with a change in coaching staff his sophomore year, Baker tried out again, this time making it on the team.
Now he works on balancing his academic and his baseball schedule: making sure he completes his clinicals and simulations, getting as much studying done as possible during required study table on the road— memorizing different drugs, their side effects, how they metabolize, and which patients should receive them in his Pharmacotherapeutics class — and going to office hours whenever he misses class for a game.
But he wasn’t supposed to be the starting pitcher this season. When senior Davis Tominaga tore his UCL and decided to redshirt this year, Baker got the opportunity to showcase his talent and gain scout attention.
“Whenever (the coaches) tell me to go in, I’m going in and I’m giving it everything I’ve got,” Baker said. “But I think they saw how much I’d grown since the beginning of the season...and it’s working out pretty well I guess.”
On Sunday, Baker had a career-high 13 strikeouts against Pacific on the road. He’s had 11 strikeouts in a game twice this season. And as he continues to impress on the mound, Baker has set a personal goal of making First Team All-WCC this year.
“It’s a quiet confidence,” Baker said. “That’s how I like to think of it. I can be vocal, but I never try to be arrogantly vocal. I never try to say ‘Oh I’m the best.’ But that’s what you’re taught to think when you’re out there...There is one option here, and it’s get this (batter) out. That’s how you execute.”
Baker’s mindset has changed during his two years playing for the Pilots. Not only has he adjusted to Division I college baseball, but he has taken the challenge in stride.
“It’s become less ‘Wow, I’m playing Division 1 baseball’ and more ‘Let’s hit the ground,’’ Baker said. “I know what it takes to be successful, so why not start pursuing that success? It’s gone from ‘I’ll get there’ to ‘Let’s get there.’”
Baker wants to instill this way of thought in his fellow Pilots between this year and next year in hopes of changing the direction of Portland baseball’s struggling program, which currently has a WCC record of 5-16.
“This year, I would like our team to achieve a different culture than what has been portrayed in the past for the Portland Pilots’ baseball team, which is a losing culture,” Baker said. “Next year, I want playoffs.”
The coaches have the same goals in mind as they work on the overall success of the team, and the individual success of the players, most of whom hope to get the same attention from scouts.
“We have that dream for all of our guys,” said head coach Geoff Loomis. “In fact, in a perfect world our guys would get drafted as juniors, and get drafted again as seniors, and would have to make a tough decision on coming back to school or signing with the major league draft.”
And Baker would certainly have a difficult choice to make if he were drafted. But for the moment, he plans to first graduate from UP. With a nursing degree in his hands, Baker could safely take the risky route of playing professional baseball.
“Right now, I’m not ready to leave,” Baker said. “There can be as many scouts up there as they want, and I’ll pitch my heart out for them and I’ll show it off, but at the end of the day, I don’t think my business here is done.”