When Baker was only 9 months old, the family, which included two older brothers—Richard and Gary, now 28 and 23 respectively—moved to Santa Monica, Calif. and a couple of years later moved again to Portland, Ore. Soon after the war was over Max Baker left home for good, and after Laura Baker divorced him in 1948 he was scarcely heard from again.
In fact, Terry saw his father for the first time in many years during the half time of a football game against Washington State in 1960. As Terry was leaving the field a man came down from the stands to speak to him. The conversation between father and son was brief and abrupt. During the second half Baker's performance on the field fell well below par, and Coach Prothro removed him from the game, not realizing what might have been bothering the boy. A year ago last Christmas, Terry received a watch from his father in the mail, but after thinking it over he returned it. "I thought it would have been better if he had spent the money on us when we really needed it," Baker explained later with characteristic frankness. "When I was 8 I nearly died from a ruptured appendix, and my mother had to take care of all the medical expenses without any help from my father. I wanted him to know now how I felt toward him."
Laura Baker, a small, slight lady of 47 with reddish hair, supported her sons by working first in one of Portland's large chain stores, then for the Owl Drug Co. and finally, since 1955, for Sears, Roebuck. Richard, the oldest boy, was on the scholarly side. He became an electronics engineer and is now taking a master's degree in mathematics. As introverted and shy as Terry is extroverted and gregarious, Richard had an important effect on his youngest brother. "It was Richard who got Terry to do his homework," Mrs. Baker says. "Terry would always listen to him."
Gary and Terry, only two years apart, were inseparable and spent most of their spare time playing games at Peninsula Park, near the family's neat, white, three-room frame bungalow in north Portland. Gary preceded Terry to Oregon State, where he played varsity baseball, and after a brief fling at minor league ball in Raleigh, N.C. and Santa Barbara he has recently married and settled down to a business career in Portland.
All through his 12 years at the Ockley Green grade school and Jefferson High School, schools which 27 years earlier had produced Stanford All-America Bobby Grayson, young Baker was full of promise. "I remember the first time Terry ever played in a varsity basketball game in high school," brother Gary reminisces. "I was a senior and Terry was a sophomore. We were playing Lincoln High, and our regular guard, Ron Langos, fouled out. Terry replaced him, and the game went into sudden-death overtime. I came down the court with the ball and was just about set to shoot when I saw Terry and passed over to him. He shot with about three guys hanging on him, and the ball went in the basket. It was the first time he ever played in a varsity sport at Jefferson. It was his first shot and his first basket, and it won the game.
From that point on Terry never stopped. He just kept right on going—into baseball and then into football. He was a great competitor. Terry has a touch. He can do things out there. He can visualize things that other players can't. He thinks a lot quicker than the average person."
Gary Baker particularly remembers how hard his brother Terry used to work for perfection. "He didn't just go over there to Peninsula Park for exercise, you know. He would work on one specific thing every weekend. He'd master it and then he'd go on to something else. He actually used to have a system worked out. He would try to master one thing a week. At the end of the year he would have mastered 52 things.
"Take his left-handed hook shot. He'd work on it the entire weekend. He'd get it down good, and then he'd go on to something else."
Thanks in large part to Terry Baker, Jefferson High School dominated adolescent athletics in the state of Oregon. Baker was all-city and all-state in football, basketball and baseball in his senior year at Jefferson, and the school won the city title in all three sports, the state title in two. "Every major West Coast college, most of the Ivy League and at least three Southwest Conference schools were after Terry," says Tom DeSylvia, the Jefferson football coach, who was as close to Baker as any of his elders. "Every time I looked up, there was another college coach coming down the hall wanting me to get Terry out of class so he could talk to him. I had more free dinners in Terry's senior year than I've had in any other 10 years. Pepper Rodgers, of the Air Force Academy, was around so much I thought he was one of our staff."
In the end, however, it was Amory (Slats) Gill, who has been the Oregon State basketball coach for 35 years, who persuaded Baker to enroll at Corvallis.