Respect is mutual in Dusty's return to Cincy

Nationals manager re-connects with old friends, teammates

Respect is mutual in Dusty's return to Cincy

CINCINNATI -- Back at Great American Ball Park on Friday for the first time since he was dismissed as Reds manager following the 2013 season, Nationals manager Dusty Baker made sure he re-connected with his many friends and former co-workers.

Baker also made time for a haircut at his old barbershop in the city.

"Guys were talking stuff in the barber shop, and most people, they start to tell you that they miss you," Baker said. "Then I start thinking about way back a long time ago, an old girlfriend that told me they missed me even though they broke up with me. And maybe you weren't so bad after all."

Baker had a 509-463 record in his six seasons with Cincinnati from 2008-13. The Reds won the National League Central but fell in the NL Division Series in '10 and '12 and reached the NL Wild Card Game in '13. Expected to do more, he was dismissed following the loss vs. the Pirates, the last of six straight defeats that capped that season.

The 66-year-old Baker managed current Reds players like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart.

"You live and die and cry and laugh with a bunch of guys for a long period of time, you form bonds that are forever," Baker said. "You know them going through boyfriend-girlfriend [stuff], just like Jay Bruce, you know them when they get married and have their first kid, second kid, third kid. … These are things you can't replace in life."

The feeling was mutual for the veteran players inside the home clubhouse, where the rebuilding Reds have had a lot of turnover since Baker's departure.

"The only time I've ever seen him was in my dugout," Bruce said. "I'm so happy he's back in the game. I truly believe the game needs him. To have a guy like Dusty Baker, he's a special guy. Forever, he will have a spot with me as far as my baseball career and even personally. He was a very important piece of my development as a baseball player and a man. He's much more than just a manager."

Virginia and Dusty dance-off

Baker was Cozart's first manager when he came to the big leagues.

"He gave me my shot," Cozart said. "He taught me a lot of things. So did [bench coach] Chris Speier, he was the guy that hit ground balls to me every day and taught me a lot. It's pretty cool to see them. It's good to see Dusty back in baseball. He was a good manager and fun to play for."

Following two years out of the game, Baker was hired by the Nationals this past offseason to replace Matt Williams and take over a contending club, signing him to a two-year contract. Baker credited Nationals assistant general manager Bob Miller -- who held the same job in Cincinnati during Baker's tenure -- with putting in a good word with GM Mike Rizzo and Washington ownership.

Baker is at peace with his current club and enjoyed the opportunity to see his old one.

"I'm very happy where I am, I really like Washington D.C. I didn't know what it was going to be like when I got there -- good people, a lot of diversity," Baker said. "Bob knew the work that I did here in Cincinnati and thought I'd be a good fit in Washington. Even if some of the people didn't think so, or didn't know me, at least I had somebody there that did know me and put in a good word for me."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.