Classic-bound Baker shines in spring debut

Classic-bound Baker shines in spring debut

JUPITER, Fla. -- A late addition to big league Spring Training, right-hander Corey Baker is also poised to make an early departure. He's not headed to Minor League camp, however, but rather across the globe to represent Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic.

Baker, who grew up in a Jewish home, helped Israel qualify for its first World Baseball Classic appearance in September. He described rejoining the team for next month's international tournament as "a no-brainer," even though it will cost him additional time in front of the big league coaching staff.

Because Team Israel begins its pool play in Korea, Baker will leave Spring Training on Monday.

"Obviously being in camp here is a great opportunity, but you don't know where you'll be in four years," Baker said. "You don't know if the Classic is even going to happen again. I could be out of baseball, or I could be fortunate enough to be playing again. It's just a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

Baker strikes out the side

St. Louis selected Baker in the 49th round in 2011, when the Draft still featured that many rounds. He advanced as high as Triple-A in 2016, but he struggled at that level. In 29 games (26 starts) between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Baker went 5-11 with a 5.68 ERA and a 1.585 WHIP.

The 27-year-old was not originally on the Cardinals' invite list to Major League camp, but he was brought in late in the first week once the club determined it needed more pitchers. Baker made his Grapefruit League debut in Sunday's 7-4 win, inducing an inning-ending double play to help Sandy Alcantara out of some trouble in the sixth. He followed that with a scoreless seventh and eighth, finishing the day with 37 pitches.

In January, Baker was one of 10 Jewish-American players to travel to Israel to promote the game and learn more about their heritage. It was Baker's second trip to Israel in as many years, as he had previously gone as part of a birthright trip.

There, the players held a couple of workouts and invited local children to watch them take batting practice.

"I think it was a good way for guys to connect with the country and the people we are representing," Baker said. "[You see] the way they have to live their life with constant struggle so close, [and] you just gain a lot of respect for how they do that. It just makes you more proud to represent them."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.