The Orion

Wildcat of the Year nominee: Nick Baker

Emerson Keenan

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Former Chico State pitcher Nick Baker has been nominated for the Orion Sports Wildcat of the Year. Orion file photo

When athletes are deciding where to go to school, it sometimes comes down to where they can make the biggest impact right off the bat. For former Wildcat pitching ace Nick Baker, that was just one of the reasons he chose Chico State.

Baker is currently a candidate for the 2014 Orion Sports Wildcat of the Year, after going 10-2 in 16 starts with five complete games and a 2.37 ERA in his fourth and final season as a Wildcat.

Backtrack four years, though, and Baker’s concern was finding a spot where he could make an immediate difference.

“I threw a bullpen for Coach Taylor and we connected there,” Baker said. “Just seeing the campus, meeting the coaches, and what was really important for me is, ‘What is the likelihood that I am going to play?’ My freshman year, there was not a lot of returning pitchers and a lot of uncertainty in the rotation.”

This opened the door for Baker his freshman year, and he did not disappoint.

He went on to lead the team in wins with nine, while also winning the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s Freshman of the Year award, a first for a Chico State baseball player.

Baker said that coming in as a freshman and doing so well was a combination of doing his homework, talking to the coach and showing up in the fall ready to play.

“Coming in pitching as a freshman, I wanted to make a pitching role for myself and not have to sit out a year,” he said. “My goal was to get better week by week.”

Luke Barker, a senior closer and former roommate of Baker’s, said that going to the World Series twice and seeing Baker take control of an entire conference this past season were his most memorable moments playing with Baker.

“Seeing Nick pitch us to the World Series was probably my best memory of us,” Barker said. “I think his command of the mound was great; he always had control, he would slow the game down and he would attack hitters. That was something that kind of rubbed off on everyone last year, and it really started working.”

“When you have a guy like Baker at the top of the rotation, who is throwing great every week, you would come to expect that from everybody, rather than just marveling at it,” Barker added.

Baker, now pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks affiliate Hillsboro Hops in the Class A Minor League, said the exposure he got from being at Chico State in Division II helped him get noticed by scouts.

“Being at a Division II in California is better than being in the middle of Wyoming in a Division I because you need accessibility for people to see you,” Baker said. “Everything about Chico helped me get to where I am, but it was nice to have the accessibility to different scouts.”

His most memorable moment came in the eighth inning of the first game of the West Regionals this past season, when Danny Miller hit a two-run home run to put the team ahead and change the perspective on the tournament, he said.

“I remember throwing water bottles because I was so excited that we were winning,” he said. “I think if we were to lose that game, it could have changed that whole week, and I don’t think we would have made it to the World Series.”

Chance Keenan can be reached at [email protected] or @chancelikelance on Twitter.

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Wildcat of the Year nominee: Nick Baker