Tristan Baker couldn’t have started out his baseball career at Hopewell High much better.Then a 14-year-old freshman, Baker not only made the Titans’ varsity baseball team, but established himself as the No. 1 pitcher , going 6-1 on the mound with 1.97 ERA. Baker also hit .417 for the season, earning All-I-Meck conference, All-Lake Norman News and All-Observer honors for his efforts.But it was a moment on the basketball court his sophomore year that changed the course of his high school career.In just the second junior varsity game of the year against Lake Norman Charter, Baker came off a screen, squared to shoot and heard and felt his knee pop. He still made the shot, but had trouble walking off the court and didn’t return to the game.After Baker went to the doctor, he was told to sit out for two weeks and see how he felt. Eager to get back in action, Baker returned to practice. While running the three-man weave he completely tore his left anterior cruciate ligament going up for a layup. He knew he would be out for the rest of the basketball season and the entire Hopewell baseball season.“It was tough to have to sit and watch and not do much at all,” said Baker, who had surgery on Jan. 17, 2013. “But I knew I had done it (tore his ACL) going 100 percent on the basketball court and there was really nothing I could do about that now. I was confident that I would be back strong because Dr. James Andrews (a surgeon who works with many NFL players) did my surgery. It wasn’t always easy, but I tried to stay positive and not let it get me down.”Baker endured about nine months without any action before getting back onto the baseball field with the FBA Hurricanes club baseball team in the late summer.Baker decided not to play basketball last fall, but he says he hopes to return to the Hopewell basketball squad for his senior season.While Baker had to shake off some of the rust of not playing baseball, he was re–energized by just being able to get back on the field and the play the game he started at age 4.“I remember the first day I got back on the field, I heard some other player complain about how hot it was,” Baker said. “All I could think about was how happy I was just being back on a baseball field and able to play. It took me awhile to feel like myself and get all my mechanics and muscle memory back in form. But I feel better and better every week.”Hopewell coach Chet Greeson, says he’s been impressed with Baker.“He really set the bar high as a freshman, because he was phenomenal that season,” said Greeson, who has been a high school head coach for more than 30 years now, including the last five seasons at Hopewell. “You can tell he’s come back hungrier and he really hasn’t missed much of a beat. He’s moved right back as our No. 1 pitcher and is hitting No. 3 in the batting order, where he is batting well, but you can see him pressing a little bit. But we are all just waiting for him to catch fire.” Baker, now a junior, is having another standout season, going 5-1 on the mound with a 0.72 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 48.1 innings of work this season, while also hitting just over .300 at the plate.The 5-foot-10, 180-pound left-hander does it with three pitches: a fastball that gets up to 85 miles per hour and has late movement, a slider and a change up, which looks exactly like his fastball. Baker doesn’t have to dominate batters, instead beating them with his control, much like his favorite baseball player, former Atlanta Brave pitcher Tom Glavine.“Tristan (Baker) is the type of guy that you watch in warm-ups as the opponent and say ‘Oh, we can hit this guy easily,’” said Greeson. “Then, you look up at the scoreboard and you’re down 4-0 in the sixth inning.”Baker, who plays centerfield when he’s not pitching, says his transition back to baseball has been easier because of his familiarity with Hopewell teammates like Sean Carder, Drew Goodman, Jacob Goodman, Connor McCree and Alon Smith (a Charlotte 49ers’ signee), who all played in the same youth league growing up. While Baker is the ace of the staff, Greeson said having Smith is like having two No. 1s, with Drew Goodman and D.J. Boyd giving Greeson four lefties at the top of the pitching staff.“I think the whole left-handed thing really throws a lot of teams off because we also all have different styles,” Baker said. “It definitely gives us just another small edge.”Baker has interest from teams like the Charlotte 49ers, Clemson, East Carolina, North Carolina and Winthrop, according to Greeson.Baker knows his junior season, both for Hopewell (12-6, 8-3 through April 24) and this summer with the Hurricanes, could determine where he plays at the next level.If he plays in college, Baker would add to family’s legacy of college athletes. His older sister, Destin, played volleyball at Catawba and Queens University of Charlotte, and his older brother, Noel (Myers Park graduate), played baseball at Guilford. His younger sister, Lexi, was a standout swimmer as a freshman this year for Hopewell. For now, Baker is just happy to be back on the field. “It’s been great to get back on the field and start to play like I know I can play again,” Baker said. “After all I went through and the time I missed with the injury, I feel like I appreciate everything I get to do on the baseball field more than I ever have and I won’t take it for granted.”
Tuesday, Apr. 29, 2014
Hopewell ace Tristan Baker is happy to be back on the mound
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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