River Cats Notebook: Baker Heating Up

After a first month slump, catcher John Baker is seeing the ball better (literally) and is starting to rack up the hits and RBIs. Baker was part of an offensive explosion for the River Cats on Tuesday, as a struggling Sacramento offensive pounded Tucson Sidewinders' pitching for 20 hits and 16 runs. Baker drove in six of those runs with a double and a triple. Find out reason why his slump is ending and more in this edition of River Cats Notebook…

Sacramento catcher John Baker entered the 2005 season riding a wave of momentum. After an excellent 2004 campaign split between AA-Midland and AAA-Sacramento, Baker solidified his status as one of the A's top catching prospects with a strong showing at the Arizona Fall League. Coming into spring training this season, Baker sat number one on the A's minor league catching depth chart.

However, Baker's 2005 season got off to a slow start. For the month of April, Baker struggled to make solid contact and his batting average dipped below .150. That mark was nearly .200 points lower than Baker's batting average during his 2004 stint in Sacramento and was extremely uncharacteristic for someone who had built a reputation for being an excellent offensive catcher.

May represents a new beginning for many players who struggle out of the gate and that has certainly been the case for Baker. Since the calendar turned on Sunday, Baker has collected seven RBIs and hit two doubles and a triple. He has raised his batting average nearly 30 points and is once again making solid contact at the plate. Why the sudden resurgence? One explanation might have to do, oddly enough, with his contact lenses.

Baker has always worn contacts throughout his professional career and, as with many players who wear contacts, has sometimes struggled with wearing the lenses during the games. This off-season, Baker elected to pursue a solution to his contact problem. Rather then undergo laser surgery for his eyes, however, Baker chose to try a new vision improvement program called Paragon CRT.

Paragon CRT is a new method of improving vision by having patients wear contact lenses only when they sleep. These special lenses are designed to reshape the cornea gently while the person sleeps so he or she can see clearly when he or she is awake without using the lenses. Baker used this program with success during spring training, but immediately began to have trouble seeing when the regular season started. All of the A's spring training games are during the day, so Baker hadn't had a chance to see what the effects of his new vision would be at night. Once he was playing under the lights, he found that the lights were causing a "halo" effect on his vision. This "halo" effect made it difficult for Baker to pick up the ball out of the pitcher's hand.

During the last week of April, the River Cats finally had an off-day and Baker was able to see his eye specialist and he determined that Baker should go back to wearing the regular contact lenses. After two days, Baker's eyes were adjusted back to his old lenses and, lo and behold, his hitting had returned. In his second game with his old lenses, Baker drove in six of the River Cats' 16 runs against the Tucson Sidewinders in Tuesday's win.

After falling behind 3-0 early, the River Cats exploded for 16 unanswered runs against the Sidewinders. Many of the River Cats, including Baker, broke out of long slumps, as they tacked on 20 hits against Tucson. John Rheinecker picked up his third win. After surviving a shaky start that saw him give up three runs in the first two innings, he settled down to pitch six solid innings. Andrew Beattie made his River Cats' debut after being recalled to Sacramento to replace the newly promoted Jermaine Clark on the Sacramento roster. Beattie went 2-4 on the day, as he hit in the lead-off spot.

Matt Watson continued his consistently excellent play at the plate, going 4-5 and scoring four runs from the fifth spot in the Sacramento batting order. He also drove in a run. Shawn Garrett went 3-6 with his second homerun and two RBI. Adam Morrissey was the only River Cats starter not to reach base. He had a rough game, going 0-7 with five strikeouts. His batting average fell to .270 after starting the game around .300. The 12-14 River Cats are in the middle of an eight-game stretch against the Sidewinders. They are currently three games back of Tucson for the division lead.

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