ST. PETER, MINN. – Brad Baker had interesting roommates that worked in his favor with career decisions. He had basketball player Kevin Harris as his roommate at Gustavus Adolphus and center fielder Jim Eisenreich as his roommate with the Elizabethton Twins in the rookie Appalachian League.
Baker intended to pursue law school after graduating at Gustavus in the spring of 1980. At the same time, the Twins were scouting St. Cloud State — and primarily Eisenreich — in the district NAIA playoff game against MIAC champion Gustavus.
The Twins were set to draft Eisenreich (and did in the 16th round), but they noticed Baker as a Gusties infielder and sent scout Angelo Giuliani to ask: “Young man, will you sign if we draft you?”
Thirty-nine years later, Baker recalled his logic for saying “yes” to Angelo.
“I was waiting around for law school and it was a chance to keep playing baseball,” Baker said Sunday.
He went to Elizabethton, Tenn.; batted .252; and watched roommate Eisenreich smoke line drives and earn a promotion to Class A Wisconsin Rapids in the closing days of the season.
Baker knew his future in baseball was iffy. He asked the Twins for quick answer, so he could enroll in law school. They gave him a positive outlook, the date to accept law school admission came and went, and then a letter arrived from the Twins notifying Baker of his release.
Baker coached Gusties baseball on an interim basis in the spring of 1981, but he needed a job, so he called Kevin Harris in Chicago. Harris was working for his father in an investment firm.
“Kevin got me hired, with no experience, no clue about the investment business,” Baker said.
Baker and Harris were founders in 1997 of Craig-Hallum, an investment bank that maintains a strong niche in the Twin Cities. Currently, Baker is CEO and Harris is chairman.
Baker grew up in St. Peter, was the star quarterback and shortstop for the high school, and went farther up the hill to Gustavus for college.
He was the option quarterback in coach Dennis Raarup’s wishbone offense. He was All-MIAC in baseball and the Gusties won MIAC titles in 1978, ’79 and ’80.
“Barry Bowles was the official coach, but he was doing several different things at Gustavus,” Baker said. “My dad, Willard, was the baseball guy. He worked at the Minnesota school board association and coaching baseball for the Gusties was a passion, not a job.”
Is Willard still with us?
“No, but he’s smiling down after yesterday,” Baker said.
On Saturday, in a terrific new ballyard, the Gusties split a doubleheader with St. Olaf — losing 14-9 in the opener, winning 10-6 in the second game — and with that became the MIAC’s regular-season champions.
This had not been done by Gustavus since 1980, with Willard as the coach and oldest son Brad in the middle of the infield. And on this gorgeous Saturday, when the fans of both teams and Gustavus students pushed the crowd to 700 or more, the Baker brothers were in the Gusties dugout again — Brad as coach, Jeff in uniform as his chief adviser.
Mike Carroll quit coaching baseball after 2015 to concentrate on women’s hockey. Tom Brown, now the athletic director, took a flyer and called Baker, asking him to take over the baseball program.
Baker was intrigued. He had to get clearance from the firm, but mostly from his wife, Susie.
“She’s awesome … and funny, too,” Baker said. “I told her about Brownie’s call. Susie said, ‘Does it mean you will be gone a lot more?’
“I said, ‘Yes,’ and Susie said, ‘Then, I think you should do it.’ ”
Baker did, with both feet — recruiting brother Jeff (a former player at Oral Roberts) to come in from Michigan to serve as an assistant, and triggering a fundraising campaign for a new, all-turf ballyard to replace a facility that was …
“Not much,” Baker said.
There has been $1 million donated and spent so far, and next will come a grandstand.
A year ago, Gustavus made it to the MIAC’s four-team playoff for the first time in a decade. Now, the Gusties will be in CHS Field on Thursday as the No. 1 seed.
“We had to have a ballpark where 18-year-old recruits would say, ‘I want to play there,’ ” Baker said. “And that’s the reaction we’ve gotten with the core of this championship team.”
The Baker brothers rent a house in St. Peter, as an option to in-season overnights — to Edina for Brad, and to New Buffalo, Mich., for Jeff.
“It’s an old house in the middle of town,” Brad said. “It has an antenna. We get four TV stations. Lots of time to talk Gusties baseball.”