As Nate Baker put it, he was doing what he was placed in the lineup to do — hit.
On back-to-back days at the Division II State Tournament, the designated hitter came up clutch and etched his name into Kodiak baseball lore.
The junior’s sixth-inning two-run, two-out single that catapulted the Bears past North Pole, 4-3, and into the state championship game was one of the biggest hits in the history of Kodiak baseball — Little League, high school and American Legion. Baker’s hit ranks up there with the hits Sean Costello, Dave McDonough and Doug Dawson delivered in key Kodiak at-bats through the years.
That came on the heels of a 3-2 extra-inning opening-round victory over Homer. It was Baker’s hard hit to shortstop that was mishandled and allowed the winning run to score.
“If I don’t do the one thing I’m supposed to do, it would be pretty disappointing,” said Baker, a few days after Kodiak finished second at the state tournament, the Bears’ best finish since the undefeated 2004 season.
Kodiak was down 2-0 and only had one hit against North Pole starter Logan Fischer heading into the sixth. The Bears were six outs away from being sent to the third-place game.
Not so fast.
After RBI singles from Micah Arndt and Hunter Williams, Baker came to the dish with runners in scoring position. The righty, who had fanned and grounded out to short in his first two plate appearances, smashed the first pitch he saw from Fischer back up the middle that scored Malakai Olson and Williams. Kodiak 4, North Pole 2.
Nearly 20 minutes later, the comeback was completed.
“It was crazy. We couldn’t believe what just happened. It was a good baseball game,” said Baker, who was placed on the all-tournament team alongside Arndt.
Like a good teammate, Baker said Arndt was the real hero of the game. The senior Arndt authored a complete-game gem, striking out six, walking none and scattering six hits in seven innings.
In the top of the seventh, Arndt picked off the tying run at second base that ended the Patriots’ rally.
“Micah’s play was way more impressive,” Baker said. “If it weren’t for Micah, North Pole probably would have scored.”
Baker is fresh on the scene, having arrived in Kodiak 10 months ago. His father is in the Coast Guard. This season was Baker’s first on the diamond since he was in the sixth grade. He gained confidence with the bat as the season went along, and by the state tournament, coach Jason Fox thrust him into the designated hitter role. A brilliant move by Kodiak’s fifth-year skipper.
“I’m just happy that I got some playing time,” Baker said. “It was pretty great playing designated hitter because the one thing I could do alright was hit. Just make contact in general.”
Baker, whose mother is Japanese, was born in Hiroshima, Japan. He didn’t live there long. In fact, he has moved quite often with a Coast Guard father. While living in Sacramento, California, he was friends with Jace Crall, whose father is also in the Coast Guard. A few years ago, Crall arrived on the island and was Kodiak’s starting pitcher in the championship game against Palmer. The Bears lost 7-3.
“I’ve been friends with Jace since first grade. We would go to baseball games — Giants games — when we both lived over there (California),” Baker said.
It’s strange how things worked out, and they both ended up on the 2021 Kodiak High team. They both played pivotal roles in Kodiak reaching the title game. After being away from baseball for four years, Baker wasn’t going to play this season. His friends — Crall included — talked him into joining the team. He is glad he did.
“It was quite an experience. I don’t think I have ever been on a team that made it that far. Second in state is pretty crazy,” Baker said. “It was a huge team effort … I know everyone wanted to win. We got that close to becoming state champions, but I am just really proud of the team and the coaches for making it as far as we did.”