OMAHA, Neb. – By the time he was 13, after 10 summers in the pool, Luken Baker’s swimming career was over. He retired from football after his freshman year of high school at Oak Ridge High School in Conroe, Texas. A year later, he stopped playing basketball.
“Kids enjoy the thing they’re good at, right?” his father Will Baker said. “And you choose which things you want them to be good at. So it was always baseball. Baseball’s always been the primary sport.”
It was clear at an early age that Luken Baker could hit a baseball. And it’s been clear, particularly in the second half of the season, that Baker can hit a baseball with the best of them.
Baker, TCU’s freshman phenom, proved that again Sunday, blistering an inside fastball from Texas Tech closer Robert Dugger down the line in left and into the seats. The three-run homer turned a 3-2, ninth-inning deficit into a 5-3 Horned Frogs win and adding fire to the feeling that college baseball is seeing something special in Baker.
“Our dugout just gets completely silent,” Frogs reliever Brian Trieglaff said. “All we hear is that ball hitting the barrel. It sounds like a bomb going off.”
Cam Warner, who hit a solo homer that gave TCU (48-16) a 2-1 lead on the Red Raiders (46-19) in the fifth, added: “It’s unreal. You even could hear the crowd gasp a little bit whenever he hits a ball, but he puts good swings on baseballs, and the ball flies.”
Baker was due up fourth in the ninth after Texas Tech’s Hunter Hargrove doubled in Cory Raley (2 for 4) to break a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the eighth.
Austin Wade drew a walk on a borderline 3-2 pitch that was deemed low to open the inning for TCU. Warner appeared willing and ready to play the hero again, but his sinking liner to center was hauled in on a diving effort by Zach Davis, who entered for defense only moments earlier. Evan Skoug then delivered a two-strike single down the left-field line to set the stage for Baker.
At 6-4, 265 pounds, Baker makes an impression just by putting on a uniform. Texas A&M coach Rob Childress told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Baker “raises your blood pressure every time he goes to bat.” And that was before Baker blasted a mammoth three-run homer that set the tone for the Horned Frogs beating the Aggies in the Super Regionals. Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle recalled of seeing Baker during the recruiting process, “I knew he was a hitter. I knew he was a good hitter, but I didn’t realize obviously that he’s the hitter that he is. And he’s a guy that, he’s a really good pitcher, but I think he separates himself as a hitter compared to everyone else.”
Yet, when he stepped to the plate for his fifth at-bat in Omaha, his parents didn’t make any assumptions.
“I had to leave my seat,” mother Melinda Baker said. “I was feeling sick to my stomach, so I got up and had to pace around to watch his at-bat. Anxious and excited.”
Will Baker added, “So, you’re rooting for the base hit, you want the good things to happen. Your saying, now’s the time to find the barrel. But you’re kind of limp, you’re kind of nervous, you don’t want to jinx it, you don’t want to say nothing. And then when it stayed fair, it was pretty awesome.”
In between a couple handfuls of high fives and hugs from Frogs faithful in the lower-level seats on the first-base side of TD Ameritrade Park, the Bakers recalled their son’s childhood.
Melinda Baker shared that Baker was a good swimmer growing up, and he loves playing Ping Pong.
“He’s just competitive at everything he does,” she said.
Will Baker confirmed that his son always was the biggest kid on the team and that he was a catcher before becoming a pitcher, a pitcher whose fastball reached the upper 90s for the Frogs earlier this spring before he was shut down because of an injury.
“He wasn’t necessarily the best player on the team,” Will Baker said. His wife then added, “He always just worked hard, and he’s always been real consistent even though he hasn’t been the best on the team.”
When pressed on if Baker struggles at anything, Melinda Baker said, “He can’t sing. Don’t tell him I said that.”
Baker, for his part, was effusive in his praise for his teammates, crediting Trieglaff (3 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 5 K) and Warner (2 for 5, HR) for putting him in position to be the hero.
“And if those things don’t happen, we probably don’t get on a roll there in the ninth inning,” Baker said. “It’s neat to hear them talk about it [TCU players’ praise of Baker]. But if Austin Wade and Evan Skoug don’t get on right there, I don’t get an at-bat.
“And everyone does something for the win.”