SAN FRANCISCO -- Minus his old signature toothpick, Cincinnati's Dusty Baker leaned against the batting cage intently watching his players just as he did for a decade managing the Giants.
Baker is back in the Bay Area for the playoffs, 10 years after he came so close to winning a World Series with San Francisco.
"Well, I really don't have much choice," Baker said when asked if it's a strange coincidence. "I feel comfortable here. I think my team likes coming here. This is a good town."
Sometimes Baker still feels the sting of that World Series near-miss, even now, two managerial stops removed from his first career gig as a skipper in the place he has long called home.
Today, he figures to be cheered by 40,000-plus fans at AT&T Park who still love him "some of 'em," he quipped when the NL Central champion Reds open their best-of-five division series against the Giants, who like Cincinnati clinched early and had plenty of time to get everything situated and lined up for the postseason.
"I'll be honest, I like this clinching early thing," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy, whose 2010 World Series championship team clinched in Game 162.
These days, the 63-year-old Baker is conserving energy after a recent 11-game absence forced by a mini-stroke and irregular heartbeat. He just rejoined the Reds on Monday in St. Louis. Baker was away for the NL Central clincher, and Homer Bailey's no-hitter at Pittsburgh last Friday night.
He's ready to go now with no plans to change a thing about the way he operates during a game on the playoff stage.
"I'm feeling like a grateful man," Baker said from his spot at the cage on a sunny fall afternoon in the Giants' waterfront ballpark.
Cincinnati's 19-game winner Johnny Cueto takes the ball in Game 1.
Matt Cain (16-5) pitches the opener for the Giants.
The Barry Bonds-led Giants fell six outs short of a World Series title in Game 6 against the wild-card Angels, then lost Game 7. And Baker was gone shortly thereafter, off to the Windy City for the daunting challenge of managing the Chicago Cubs.
Nobody will forget that terrifying moment when Baker's then-3½-year-old son, Darren, wandered into a play at the plate and almost got run over in Game 5 at AT&T Park. That led to the "Darren Baker" bat-boy rule as it became known no toddlers working as bat boys, and a new age requirement of 14.
"Sometimes it stings at me, but you've got to leave it in the past," Baker said. "You can't live in the future and stay in the past. But I'm still here. I have an opportunity to win a championship here, and it lets you know exactly that time never stops. Time goes very quickly. Doesn't seem like 10 years ago, doesn't seem like 10 years ago my boy was 3 years old, being pulled off the mound. It lets me know that I'm getting older."