Baker gives his all as Yellowjackets bow out

PORTLAND, Ore. — Bryon Baker’s sore arm had enough for one more start.

Unfortunately for the Butte High graduate and the MSU-Billings baseball team, it wasn’t quite enough for the Yellowjackets.

Baker, who pitched even though his re-injured surgically-repaired right arm said he shouldn’t, pitched seven strong innings as the Yellowjackets fell 4-3 to Northwest Nazarene in the GNAC Tournament at Porter Park.

“It was a struggle,” Baker said. “But you just got to go out and do what you can for your teammates. I love those guys.”

The loss eliminated the Yellowjackets from the double-elimination tournament.

“Bryon, I can’t say enough about him — his toughness, his character, who he is as a person,” MSUB head coach Aaron Sutton said. “He was going to throw until his arm fell off. He did that for us his whole career.”

Baker, 24, who was working to rebuild strength in his arm throughout his junior season, was off to a solid start for the Yellowjackets as a senior.

In fact, it appeared he might have a chance to be selected by a Major League team in the June draft.

“That was definitely the plan,” the fifth-year senior said. “But that’s how it goes.”

In his second outing of the season, Baker started feeling pain once again. The pain got worse and worse as the season went on.

Eventually, Baker had to shut it down for three weeks. He knew his shoulder was bad.

“I didn’t even bother to go get an MRI,” Baker said. “I just said, ‘Give me a cortisone shot.’ I could feel it every game and every pitch. Eventually I couldn’t pitch. I couldn’t feel my hand.”

Baker took the shot, and was able to pitch five outs during MSUB’s season-ending series at home last week.

On Thursday, he took the ball with the season on the line.

“About the third inning it was pretty dead,” Baker said. “I just kept pushing through it. It was the last outing of my career. I probably could have pitched two more innings. I would have pitched as long as the coach would let me.”

Baker said his shoulder isn’t preventing him from doing anything outside of baseball. Still, he said another surgery is definitely a possibility down the road.

A three-run triple by Northwest Nazarene right fielder Billy King in the third inning proved to be the difference in the game.

MSUB centerfielder Zach Robinson made a diving attempt to catch King’s shot.

“He almost made a great play,” Baker said. “The ball got past him and just rolled. This is a big park. It’s kind of like Montana Tech back in the day.”

Early in his career, Baker topped out with a fastball of about 92 miles per hour. He said he was hitting 86 early Thursday — thanks to the shot and a lot of rest. He said he was told his fastball was between 78 and 81 mph the rest of the day.

“You’ve just got to go out and do the best you can with what you got,” Baker said.

Like he had done for most of his five-year career with the Yellowjackets, Baker gutted it out. And he closed out his career by catching two pop ups — something pitchers usually let infielders handle.

“It was nice to feel like an athlete again,” Baker said facetiously.

Baker closed the gritty season with a 4.33 ERA and a 4-2 record. He appeared in 13 games, starting eight and completing two.

Even though he turned into more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher with the sore arm, he struck out 43 batters in 54 innings.

Baker earned an honorable mention when the GNAC All-Conference team was released earlier this week.

The former Butte Miner will graduate after the fall semester with a degree in criminal justice.