NFL Player Chris Baker Promotes Literacy Foundation at the Legendary Bart’s Drive-In
Posted on July 15, 2014
Article & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
When he was a youngster NFL player Chris Baker and his friends rode their bicycles to “that hot dog place” just down the street from where he lived in Windsor, Connecticut. “That hot dog place” being the iconic Bart’s Drive-In Restaurant. On July 11, Baker was at Bart’s to promote the Chris Baker Foundation, a literacy foundation. He became the most recent among notable professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities whose presence at this Nutmeg state institution have added to its mystique since it opened more than sixty years ago.
Much to the delight of customers and the staff of Bart’s, that shares a connected space with The Beanery and Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, Baker tried his hand at taking orders, mixing milkshakes and cooking hotdogs and cheeseburgers on Bart’s “Famous Magic Grill.”
“Ahh, another dream come true,” joked Windsor Mayor Donald Trinks, owner and general manager of Bart’s, when Baker stepped behind the counter.
Following Baker’s turn at the grill, Trinks said he just might add a new item to Bart’s menu – the Chris Baker Swaggy Dog topped with sauerkraut, relish and onions – playing on Baker’s “Swaggy” nickname.
Now a defensive lineman for the Washington Redskins – #92 – who signed a three year multi-million dollar contract with the team, Baker, 26, returned to Windsor fulfilling a promise he made to himself to give back to the community he loves so dearly. And he decided what better place to get the word out about the Chris Baker Foundation than at the legendary Bart’s.
“I always told myself if I was ever in the position to be able to do so, I would come back and give back to my community,” Baker said during an interview at Bart’s on Friday.
Growing up, Baker, who also played high school basketball, recalled the positive effect it had in his life to meet and interact with professional athletes such as Marcus Camby at his Cambyland Camp.
“I remember that feeling,” said Baker.
With that in mind, Baker was preparing to launch his inaugural Chris Baker Football Camp the following day at Windsor’s Sage Park Middle School where he was to be joined in his mentoring initiative by other NFL players with Connecticut ties. The camp will be held annually, and as well as football, aims to teach students skills in literacy and leadership, according to Baker. Area businesses stepped up to contribute towards supporting the camp, including Bart’s which was slated to feed the participants.
Established with help from the Dennis Brant Sports Group, LLC, Baker’s foundation has recently placed a web-based program, EverFi, in grade 4 at two Windsor elementary schools – Clover Street School and John F. Kennedy School. Designed to teach reading and financial literacy, with teacher guidance the program allows students to advance at their own pace. At the end of the coming school year, Baker plans to come back and present the students with certificates. Previously, he put the same type of program in at the Wheatley Education Campus in Washington D. C. Long-term, Baker’s goal is to establish the program in elementary schools throughout Connecticut.
“It is so encouraging to see Chris who came from Windsor middle class roots, now want to give back to his hometown – that is everything, ” said Trinks.
“Chris has just signed a three year $12 million contract with the Redskins. And yet here he is, just as humble and down-to-earth as he could ever be,” Trinks added.
At age 11, Baker was already six feet tall. Told he was too heavy to play youth football, he focused on playing basketball. A 2004 graduate of Windsor High School, Baker played basketball all four years at WHS and dreamt of playing the sport professionally. It was in his junior year at WHS that two good friends, Terrence Knighton, who now plays for the Denver Broncos, and John Manning urged Baker to try out for the Windsor High School Football Team. He made the squad and played for two years going on to play collegiate football at Penn State and then at Hampton University.
However, NFL draft day in 2009 did not turn out as Baker had hoped.
“I went undrafted. It was really tough,” he said.
Nonetheless, Baker kept faith and continued to work hard on his skills. Eventually he got his shot with the NFL as an undrafted free agent for the Broncos. Subsequently, he played for the Hartford Colonials of the UFL and the Miami Dolphins before joining the Redskins. He spent some time playing on practice squads until being moved to the active roster and earning his current position with the Redskins.
“That is something I want to help kids understand – there will be ups and downs. Stay consistent, work hard and get your education,” said Baker.
Baker was also quick to point out he was not the only standout athlete in his family. His sister, Sierra Baker, played on a WHS girl’s state championship basketball team. His parents Jacqueline and Marion Baker are still Windsor residents and Chris says he tries to visit them as often as possible.
“I love Windsor and I love Windsor High,” he said.
Bart’s – where hometown heroes meet!
On Friday, area folks showed their reciprocation of Baker’s love as he patiently signed autographs while a line streamed out the door.
Among those who offered good wishes to Baker was another hometown hero and fellow WHS Warriors football alum, Dan Nolan, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nolan’s nephew Johnny Nolan is currently the WHS varsity quarterback.
Kristen Ritchie, who works in the Windsor area came by with her daughter Alicia. Kristen has a friend who is a die hard Redskins follower and wanted an autograph for her. Dane Kendall, a Metropolitan District Commission employee who was working on a water project in front of the restaurant, lives in Connecticut now but was originally from Maryland. Kendall remains a Redskins fan and could hardly believe his good fortune in having the opportunity to meet and have a photo taken with Baker, he said.
Carol Engelmann, who runs The Beanery, describes herself as a “true Washington Redskins fan.” A Connecticut native, while working in the Washington D. C. vicinity a number of years ago, Engelmann was given season Redskins tickets by a friend.
“They were Row 9 and I would wear my UConn Huskies sweatshirt to the games. One of the players noticed my sweatshirt and pointed to me,” Engelmann said.
Apparently surprised to see a UConn fan in the Redskins crowd, other players began to notice her in the stands and they dubbed her “UConn Girl”, Engelmann said with a smile.
And what about Chris’ personal life? Sorry ladies, this guy is spoken for – he is engaged to Jamila Phillips of Alabama, an ESPN talent producer.
Go to http://www.chrisbaker92.com to learn more about the Chris Baker Foundation and how to help support it.