It was the third and final day of the MVP Baseball Tournament at Georgia State University Baseball Stadium. Brandon Baker, working as a landscaper for the premiere showcase for Black high school baseball players in North Georgia, had no idea that fate would call his number before the tournament ended.
As the day began, clouds formed in the sky, the air smelled like they contained rain. Baker, a 23 year old grounds keeper at the park knew how important the MVP showcase is to the ball players.
Five years ago, Baker, a left handed pitcher out of Redan High School in Decatur, Georgia had been one of the young men on the field. He had hopes of landing a Division 1 baseball scholarship or a professional baseball contract. The University of Missouri, not exactly a hot bed of baseball in the Southeastern Conference, offered him a scholarship.
Baker was happy with his choice, but when he arrived at Missouri, he learned the pitching coach who had recruited him resigned to take another position. The head coach assumed the pitching coaches duties. In a pinch, he took the safe route and went with his juniors and seniors. Baker was lost in the scuffle.
He withdrew from Missouri and enrolled into Georgia State University. After sitting out a year as required by NCAA rules, Baker contributed to the GSU baseball program. This past season he pitched 40 innings, striking out 45 batters on his way to a 4–3 record.
Brandon Baker firing a 93 mph fast ball as Texas Rangers cross checker Clarence Johns looks on.
Last year he earned his Bachelor of Science Degree in Risk Management. With one year of baseball eligibility remaining, Baker enrolled in a Master’s Program in International Business.
To pay for his masters education, Baker took a job as a landscaper. One of his duties required him to prepare the GSU baseball field for the MVP Tournament.
Like many young men who dream of playing professional baseball, Baker clung to his dream. In spite of a good strike out to innings pitched ratio he did not hear his name called during the 2018 June Baseball Draft.
“I was disappointed,” he said.
Now his immediate dream turned to finishing up his master’s studies, then landing a job as a pitcher in an Independent League next year.
During the tournament, Baker went about his chores of preparing the field of dreams at GSU for a new crop of youngsters dreaming that dream of forever being one of the “Boys of Summer.”
On day three, he had the bright idea and the courage to walk up to Clarence Johns, the Cross Checker for the Texas Rangers scouting department and ask for a try-out on the spot. Each year Johns brings a team to Atlanta to compete in the MVP Tournament. Also, he assists the MVP organizational board with planning ideas.
“All he could say was no,” Baker said.
Johns got with MVP President Greg “Goody” Goodwin and asked if he could hold a brief try out for Baker. “Goody” had watched Baker grow into manhood and had observed him mature as a baseball player. He freed up the left field bullpen for Baker and a catcher to throw between games.
Then Johns assembled scouts from the Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and the Minnesota Twins to come and observe Baker pitch.
Baker was preparing the field for the next game when he got the call to drop his rake and to bring a glove for a bullpen session in front of the assembled scouts. He sauntered pass Hank Aaron, Jr., Jack Powell and Clarence Johns who had their radar guns at the ready. They wanted to see if the landscaper could hit the 90 mph mark with his fast ball.
Baker did not disappoint. His fastball consistently hit the 89–93 mark. When the session was over, “Goody” yelled at Baker that he needed to rack the batter’s box and line it off for the next game. Baker trotted back towards home plate and picked up his rake, after all, he had to pay for his master’s education.
As a cross checker, Johns has an advantage over the scouts. While scouts have to submit their findings to the player development department, Johns has the power to make a decision on the spot.
After Baker completed his landscaper work around home plate, Johns took him aside and offered him a free agent contract to play baseball with the Texas Rangers. On Monday, Baker will graduate from GSU with a master’s degree and on Tuesday he will leave for the Arizona Instructional League.
When “Goody” Goodwin learned Baker had been extended a contract with the Rangers, tears flowed uncontrollably from his eyes.
“This is why I volunteer my time, it’s about helping these kids reach their dream,” he said between sobs.
“It’s a good feeling. He really deserves it. Of all the kids I’ve coached, Brandon is one of the ones who really deserves it,” Harry Sapp, who coached Baker in high school said when he learned the news.
“To come out here and work the grounds everyday as a landscaper, after what he experienced at Missouri, to come back home, sit out a year and work hard at GSU, I think it is a credit to his humble nature and hard work ethic,” Marquez Denmon, the Public Address Announcer for MVP said.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org