Baker, a Giants wide receiver from 1987-92, is an instructor at the Giants Youth Football Camps, which are held every summer throughout the New York metropolitan area. Walgreens, the team's official retail pharmacy, is the presenting sponsor of the camps.
Baker is one of numerous former Giants who instruct the campers. He could find something more relaxing to do than stand in a hot sun and teach football to youngsters, but nothing more enjoyable.
"It all extends back to when I was a kid growing up in L.A.," Baker said. "I always wished that we had programs like that. "We were big Cowboys fans and Rams fans growing up in Los Angeles and I've often said in interviews that we used to say, 'Wouldn't it be cool if Roger Staubach or Drew Pearson came out here and taught us some drills?' Of course, that never happened. I made a promise to myself and said if I ever became successful and played professional football that I would love to do events like that. So when the opportunity arose to do these Giants camps, I jumped right in. It's right up my alley. There are two or three a week and I love it. To me, it's just so fun to get up on a summer morning and drive to a camp, because you know all the kids are going to be happy to see you."
The Giants Youth Football Camps are run by Pro Sports Experience (PSE), a company that manages youth camps for several professional teams. PSE's executive director and owner is Tom Finks, the son of the late Jim Finks, who was an executive with the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. Tom Finks, who worked for the Chicago Blackhawks for nine years, is a member of the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame as a player.
But his new passion is the youth camps.
"The idea behind it is to mobilize the team resources and get them into the community for great football camp experiences," Finks said. "The programs are non-contact, for kids ages six to 14 years old. They're designed to welcome newcomers to the game, which is a big component of the program. They're also designed to challenge experienced players so they can take their game to the next level."
One of the camp instructors is Charles Way, the former Giants fullback who is now the team's Director of Player Development.
"The camps not only give us the presence in the community that we're in, but it also brings the fans closer to the history of the Giants by having the alumni players there teaching the kids and signing autographs," Way said. "They weren't born when most of us played in the NFL, so now, in the age of Google and the internet, they go back and look up the players they met that day and learn about what he did in his career. It gives them a little bit more information on the history of the New York Giants and, hopefully, we're creating a younger generation of Giants fans."
Twenty-nine Giants youth camps are scheduled between June 20 and July 29 this summer.
They will be held at schools throughout the metropolitan area, from Wallington and Greenwich, Connecticut to Manhattan, Long Island and Westchester to Freehold, Basking Ridge and Somerset, N.J. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will coach at the camp at Our Lady of the Valley in Wayne from June 27 to July 1.
"Behind the strategy is putting these camps in local communities so that a mom deciding on her summer camp schedule can say, 'This is the New York Giants Youth Football Camp with outstanding, high-quality coaches, Giants camp heroes - which are, by the way, former players - fathers and family men, guys get that great reward by teaching kids through football,'" Finks said. "So these camps are in the community, they're right down the street, they're extremely high quality, they're non-contact, they're about football skills and athletic development. It makes it really attractive for these people to either get into the game or really improve their game."
The camps teaching football fundamentals in a manner that makes the game easy to understand and enjoy for players of different ages and at various skill levels.
"What we're trying to do is complement all of their summer football activities with some great local camp options for parents," Finks said. "The Giants' team strategy is to create a large footprint and have these camps in diverse location. The camps are comprehensive in instruction. We teach all football playing positions to all kids. We use traditional football practice structures with station-based training. Kids are divided by age and experience level and in the morning sessions we teach individual skills and we rotate the campers from station-to-station, where it's apples-to-apples instruction and they get plenty of repetitions and positive reinforcement. They
progress athletically and then have a greater love for the game. They learn more about the game and they end up leaving the camp loving football and the New York Giants team more than they did when they got there."
The teaching staff at the camps is comprised of high school and college coaches, with additional instruction provided by a roster of former Giants players like Rodney Hampton, Eric Dorsey, Bill Ard, Chris Calloway, Way and Baker.
"These are former players, fathers, family men, guys that understand the kinds of messages and experiences we're trying to deliver to these young athletes," Finks said. "We welcome newcomers to the game, but we have a new component for more experienced players. It's called accelerated skills and the accelerated skills class is like an advanced classroom within the camp itself, so kids that come to us with a lot of experience will get a package together and challenged with more expectations, more intensity, faster pace, more competitive challenges. At the end of the day we're there to develop athletic skill, but even before that we've got to have a good time, we've got to have fun and kids have got to really enjoy the experience and that's the tone and the atmosphere that we're trying to create in the 28 locations where we're running camps."
"I think the camps are great, because they get the kids interested in football," Way said. "Most of them are young and new to football, so it starts getting them more involved and acclimated to the game of contact football. It's a good introduction for them to football because many of them haven't really played organized football, so it actually gives them a step-by-step process on what it's going to take for them to do well."
Running, throwing and catching are only part of the camp's curriculum. The campers also receive numerous life lessons on subjects such as health, nutrition and education.
"They always give us time, which I think is the most important time, to talk to the campers in a question and answer session," Baker said. "I tell my life story and what it took to become a professional player. Then I tell them things I think they should be doing, because everybody doesn't make it to professional football or any professional sport. You always try to stress to them that they need to have something else to fall back. You get some interesting questions after that. They're always full of questions."
"We have periods throughout the day in which the kids take a break and we talk about how football can relate to life," Way said. "We talk about how if you do well in football, football is a discipline and in order to do well in football you need to have discipline, you need to have a great work ethic and those are the same things you need to be successful in life."
It is sometimes difficult to tell who is having more fun, the camps learning about football or the former NFL Players who relish the opportunity to teach them. Way rushed for 1,356 yards and 10 touchdowns in his five Giants seasons (1995-99).
"I love working with kids in general," Way said, "so whenever I have an opportunity to work at the camps and help them learn the game that I grew up loving, I'm all for it."
Baker, who was perhaps generously listed as being 5-foot, 8-inches tall when he played, still looks like the kid he claims to be. His appearances at the camp are a combination of hands-on instruction and recalling the highlights of his six-year career, which included a touchdown reception in the Giants' victory over Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV.
"I bring my cleats and everything," Baker said. "I always tell them, 'I may be an old man, but bring your dads out here. I'm 46 now, so if they're 46 or younger, bring 'em on.' I can still run routes. I've still got a little quickness left. Not a lot, but I've still got a little bit. I enjoy it. I go there, I get out there with them and get dirty."
Baker caught 141 regular season passes and scored 21 touchdowns with the Giants and enjoys fielding queries from the campers about his career and the team.
"The number one question is, 'Did it hurt when you got hit?'" said Baker, who spends his working life with youngsters as a permanent substitute teacher at the James J. Flynn Elementary School in Perth Amboy, N.J. "I always tell them I used to get hit a lot harder by my mom. The hardest hit I ever got was from (Hall of Fame safety) Ronnie Lott. He caught me sideways and I spun around like a helicopter.
"I bring my ring and I bring the Super Bowl trophy (the replica that Bill Parcells had made for each player). That's always a big hit, because how many kids can actually sat they held a Super Bowl ring or got to take a picture with the trophy. I pass it around and let them hold it and everything. I know how kids think, so that's why I bring all of the little props like that. I think I'm going to shine up my helmet and start bringing that, too."