photo: Corey Baker (Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos)
Editor’s note: This is the first of a new series in which Derek Shore catches up with former St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguers. To follow all of them, join The Cardinal Nation today!
As former St. Louis Cardinals prospect Oscar Mercado came off the shelf at Double-A Springfield on June 11, 2017, the accompanying roster move was the release of longtime organizational swingman Corey Baker.
The move was a bit of a surprise given the right-hander was a 2017 mid-season Texas League All-Star. The then 27-year-old had even been a non-roster invitee to big-league camp that spring before joining Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.
But rest assured Baker had a successful career with the Cardinals considering he was drafted in the 49th round (a round that no longer exists) in 2011, first reaching Double-A in 2013. Baker finished his seven-season Cardinals career with a 30-30 record, 12 saves in 20 chances and a 3.80 ERA.
After his playing career, Baker went on to work with the Minnesota Twins as an assistant MLB advanced scout/replay coordinator in 2018 thanks to the recommendation of former Cardinal Jeremy Hefner.
Now, he’s pursuing a new passion.
In this edition of “Where are they now?”, Baker takes us through his playing career with the Cardinals, his job with the Twins and what he’s now doing outside the game.
Derek Shore: First of all, you had a long tenure in the Cardinals organization. How do you reflect on your time in the system?
Corey Baker: “When I reflect on my time in the system, I generally do so in a positive light. While I have my memories of being out on the field and performing, I think I spend more time reflecting on the people I met and the relationships that came out of those years. Life in the minor leagues for most players can be really hard for a lot of reasons and I definitely had my struggles along the way, but I do tend to look back and reflect positively about my time with the Cardinals.”
DS: 2017 marked your final season with the Cardinals, but your release came just a few weeks after playing in the Texas League All-Star game. Two-part question: were you surprised by the sudden release? And did you think right away you had already thrown your last pitch professionally?
CB: “I was a little surprised by my release because of how well I was pitching, but I’d be lying if I said it caught me completely off guard. When there’s a roster move to be made, it’s never a secret. Players coming off the DL or someone getting promoted always reaches the locker room before the corresponding move is made so there’s always speculation.
“As someone who had less than a half of a season left with the Cardinals before becoming a free agent, being an older guy who was repeating the league I knew that my spot was always going to be in jeopardy. It was interesting because there were plenty of other times in my career where I would have been significantly less surprised had I gotten released because of performance, but it happened when it happened and that’s something I had no control over.
“I believed I’d get a shot with another organization so I didn’t think I threw my last pitch professionally. Again, I knew I was an older guy and that would hurt. But I did think I had proved myself at a high enough level that someone might take a chance on me. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to kick around in the minors forever. I always wanted to know if I could pitch in the big leagues. All 30 teams had a chance to sign me and they didn’t, so that was a clear sign it was time to move on and it was definitely for the best.”
DS: On a slightly off-topic note — paying minor leaguers has always been a hot topic, but now so more than ever. As someone who was in the minors for years, what’s your response about what’s going on in the game right now?
CB: “I’m glad that minor leaguers getting paid so poorly is continuing to be addressed. I think it’s terrible that all 30 teams have basically decided to pay a group of people horribly and scare them into doing anything about it because they are “chasing a dream” and don’t have any union representation. But honestly I don’t think it’ll change in the near future because they’ll always find enough bodies to fill rosters with.
“It’s super unfortunate that that is the reality of it. I chose to play all those years making little money – and while it doesn’t make it right, others are going to continue to do so. I can’t say enough good things about the big leaguers who have signed their deals and have given back financially to help minor leaguers. It would be great to see more of that.”
DS: Hundreds of players across MiLB have been released in the last couple of days due to something not performance-based. For someone who has been through something similar, what advice do you have for a minor leaguer affected by this?
CB: “I would say that if you still believe in yourself, continue to be a good self-evaluator of what you need to do to get better so if an opportunity comes you are ready. I would also say embrace the unknown a bit. Life after baseball goes on and there’s a lot of great opportunities for former professional athletes, so take it a day at a time and focus on constant self-improvement.”
DS: After your playing career, you joined Jeremy Hefner and the Twins as an assistant MLB advanced scout/replay coordinator. What was that job like for you?
CB: “First of all working with Jeremy was a great experience in itself. He’s extremely smart and his dedication to improving himself and everyone around him is unmatched. He’s going to continue to do great things in baseball. That job was a great learning experience for me in so many ways. It was my first job off the field and I got to experience a Major League locker room.
“I wished I had made it as a player, but getting to see what that was like even on a different side was really cool. Ultimately, that year gave me the finality in the game that I needed and I learned that baseball is not where I am meant to be.”
DS: Where and what are you doing now that you are out of baseball?
CB: “I currently live in Seattle. I moved out here with my partner, Jenna, last August and we bought a house shortly after. I work for a renewable energy company focused on solar distribution.”
DS: Do you ever think you will get back in the game again, albeit as a coach or scout?
CB: “I don’t see myself getting back into baseball. I can honestly say I don’t miss much about the game. I love having weekends and time with my family and friends. I am living a happier and more well-rounded life outside of the game. I love baseball and loved most of my time in it, but I feel very strongly that there are other things in my life I want to experience and I’m so happy I get to do that now.”
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