Using the skills he gained as a basketball player at Linfield from 1964 until 1968, Roger Baker followed a new athletic pursuit that led him to prominence in international competition.
He played basketball for four years under Hall of Fame Coach Ted Wilson, earning varsity letters as a sophomore and a senior.
As team co-captain in 1968, Baker helped Linfield capture the Northwest Conference title with a 16-2 record. He was voted the Wildcats’ most valuable and best defensive player by his teammates while earning unanimous first team all-conference recognition.
Following graduation, Baker entered the U.S. Army where he continued to compete in basketball. Eventually, his interests turned to the burgeoning sport of team handball.
Playing for Team USA, Baker excelled as a team leader and defensive star. He played a large role in piloting the Americans to gold medals in the 1971 and ’75 Pan American Games, which paved the way to invitations to compete in the 1972 and ’76 Olympic Games.
Although his handball teams did not achieve an Olympic medal, in 1972 Munich Games, Team USA did knock off Spain, a team that was ranked among the top 10 in the world. The Americans also competed well against Yugoslavia, giving the eventual gold medalists their closest contest throughout the games.
“Roger was the heart of the defense on the USA teams,” said Michael Cavanaugh, a former teammate and current CEO of USA Table Tennis. “He was an intelligent player who was always well prepared. He was fierce on the court and gentle, caring and compassionate off the court.”
Baker’s strengths in handball were rooted in the fundamentals he learned while playing basketball at Linfield.
“Roger demonstrated dedication to his sport and a willingness to be one of the most hard-working players on the court,” according to former teammate Rick Abrahamson, captain of the ’76 Olympic team. “In a sport widely dominated by foreign teams, Roger was not only one of the best American handball players, he could compete at a level with the best in the world.”
Baker and his wife, Junie, have been married for 31 years and reside in Hood River. Baker has been involved in commercial real estate as a broker and investor since 1973.