He was shy but had a big smile. He could throw 92 mph and had off-speed stuff. English was a work in progress, but his future was as bright as his mechanics were smooth.
Fast-forward six years, when Baek made his first big-league appearances - the smile and the mechanics were still there. So was the shyness and Baek's unfailing politeness.
Baek always had above-average velocity but pitched backward: He'd try to get ahead with breaking balls and changeups and, when he fell behind, throw fastballs.
He paid the price for throwing fastballs in fastball counts, but the potential was there - I remember eight shutout innings one game, and his joy had having thrown them. Three Seattle pitching coaches and a couple of managers tried and failed to make him a consistent back-end-of-the-rotation starter.
One year in Tampa Bay, Baek saw another Korean pitcher working out with the Rays - Jae Kuk Rys - and asked me if he was approachable. I told him everyone was, and led him over to the Tampa dugout during batting practice and introduced them. Baek treated that small favor with far more gratitude than it deserved.
In '07, the Mariners designated Baek for assignment and the Padres took him in trade for a minor leaguer. With San Diego, as in Seattle, there were flashes that made you think he'd gotten in together.
He never did.
Last spring, he developed problems in his right forearm and landed on the Padres disabled list. Twice, he began rehabilitation assignments, tried to pitch and could not. He never pitched an inning in the majors in 2009.
Last week, the Padres released Baek. The kid who hoped to prove himself against the best hitters in the world when he arrived in '98, is now 16-18 in his career, with a 4.83 earned run averages.
What Baek reminds us is that, whatever your nationality, getting to the big leagues is nearly impossible. And staying there is harder, still.
Baek may get an invitation to one spring training camp or another - teams always hope they can bring in someone who has suddenly figured it all out.
If only the gentlemen in this game, those like Baek, could do so.