Butte pitcher left mark on West Coast League

It didn’t take long from Bryon Baker to make a name for himself with the Kitsap BlueJackets of the West Coast League.

The Butte pitcher picked up the win in relief in the team’s first game of the season in Bremerton, Wash., on June 6. In doing so, he struck out the “Burrito Batter,” an season-long promotion that earned every fan in attendance a free burrito at Taco Bell.

“That was my nickname when I was there, ‘Burrito Baker,'” the pitcher said Tuesday.

As the season went on, Baker kept delivering for his fans. He struck out the “Burrito Batter” over and over.

“I think was four or five,” Baker said. “The next on the team was two. It was a crazy way to open the summer.”

The right hander, who is about to begin his sophomore campaign at MSU Billings, also got better and better as the year went on. Strong relief appearances led to five starts.

“Before the All-Star break I felt better than I have in a long time,” Baker said.

In all, he made 13 appearances and pitched 26.2 innings. he struck out 21, walked 17 and posted 5.73 ERA.

“It was great. It was really good league,” Baker said. “The competition was amazing. It was full of a lot of players from big schools, and here I was from little MSU Billings. I feel like I held my own, though.”

The West Coast League was filled with big league scouts, and the players were treated like they were already in the majors.

“Everywhere you go, people just wanted autographs because it’s such a good league and a lot of these guys will go on to goo careers,” Baker said.

Baker’s first and second starts came on the road. He pitched in front of 3,000 fans on the first one and 3,200 in the second one.

“I actually enjoyed it,” he said of performing in front of the big crowds. “It just made you focus a little more. It just intensifies everything when there’s that many people in the crowd.”

The season didn’t end in storybook fashion for Baker, though. At 23-30, the BlueJackets finished last in the West Divison. Also, Baker didn’t get to pitch down the stretch because of a bout with tendinitis in his right shoulder.

He took a no-hitter into the fifth inning of his last start on July 18. Then his shoulder started hurting during warm-up tosses, and he ended up making just one more appearance.

Even during the disappointing times, the season was a learning experience on so many levels, Baker said. “I learned a lot about the mental side of the game,” he said.

Former Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s son, Rustin, was also a pitcher on the BlueJackets. Dale Sveum, who is now the hitting coach for American League Central-leading Kansas City Royals, had a talk with the team.

“He talked to us for about an hour,” Baker said. “He really stressed the mental stuff to us. I took a lot way from what he said.”

Baker will report back to MSU Billings early next month. His main focus during fall ball will be getting his shoulder ready for another strong season in 2015, and he happily reports his shoulder is pain free.

“I’ve got to take the fall and get my arm 100 percent,” he said.

Next summer, Baker will look to again play summer ball. He’s looking at the Northwoods League and maybe even the Cape Cod League.

“I’d like to try something new, but I’d definitely go back,” he said. “I feel like I had a good enough season.”

Kitsap fans would definitely like to see Baker back in the summer of 2015.

Just like he busted onto the scene with strong first impression, he left the BlueJackets fans with a lasting memory.

Baker’s last appearance came in the ninth inning on Aug. 4. He got the last two outs to end a 6-2 BlueJackets home win over the Bellingham Bells.

After walking a batter, Baker got the next man to ground out to third. Then he registered a strikeout to end the game.

That last batter just so happened to be the “Burrito Batter.”

“Burrito Baker” had delivered again.

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