Drawing on a picturesque upbringing in Pennington, Katie Baker has made unexpected, yet inspiring, leaps. She’s jumped from bikes to business, from finance to journalism, and most recently, from San Francisco to a humble Lake Tahoe town in Northern California. She pursues what she wants relentlessly and is living her dream — which, as it turns out, has taken her not too far from where she came.
Baker is widely known for her talents as a sportswriter, at the former ESPN-produced, Bill Simmons-edited website Grantland, as well as Simmons’ latest long-reads site, The Ringer, where Baker is a staff writer. Last month, Baker wrote about the Winter Olympics for The Ringer, including profiles of the “Shib Sibs,” skaters Alex and Maia Shibutani, and legendary figure skater Tara Lipinski.
She began her roundabout journey into the world of sportswriting in Mercer County. Baker moved to Pennington with her parents, Kathy and Kevin, when she was 5 years old, around the time her brother, Kevin, was born. She recalls her childhood as being nothing short of idyllic: bike rides to Vito’s Pizza, water gun fights with the neighborhood kids who all fell perfectly within her age range, two Wheaten terriers named Merlin and Lilly, and Toll Gate Grammar, her “happy elementary school.”
“I love Pennington,” Baker said. “I just remember spending time riding my bike to Main Street. It makes me sound like an old person, but we’d go to Pennington pharmacy and buy candy with a dollar. We’d go play in woods behind my house, and Jann’s Sweet Shoppe was the place to be.”
To this day, when Baker visits her parents’ house, now in Yardley, Pennsylvania, she meanders across the Delaware River to friends’ houses and relives her youth — along with an occasional visit to Hopewell Valley Vineyards.
Since she was young, Baker was a sports enthusiast. She often found herself thumbing through the sports section of her dad’s New York Times, which he’d bring home from his commute to work.
As water gun fights and sweet shop visits dissolved into Vanity Fair and online chat rooms, Baker’s voice as writer began to be heard louder than one may expect from a small town tween. She found a niche mediating chat rooms for Talk City, one of the initial relay chat room networks.
“I got paid $8 an hour to moderate chats — scolding people for bad words, explaining what it meant when someone typed a colon followed by a dash and a parenthesis, and generally being unfailingly perky,” Baker wrote in a 2011 Deadspin article titled, “The Confessions of a Former Adolescent Puck Tease.” “I got $12 an hour to run topical programming. I led hard-hitting discussions about bulimia and bullying, and I hosted a popular Sunday night game called Commercial Crazies that I prepared for, mostly, by writing down the commercial slogans I saw on the MSG network during Knicks and Rangers games.”
The gig landed her a spotlight in a 1997 BusinessWeek Magazine article for her success forging “a global community of teens.” At the time, she was only 13. The piece has remains a high point of her career.
A close second is her 2014 feature on ex-Ranger coach Mike Keenan who, after falling “out of favor” in the sports world, moved to Magnitogorsk, Russia, to resume coaching. The assignment brought Baker to the bleak steel city bordering Syria, where no one spoke English and nothing was warm.
“I spent eight days there writing about [Keenan] and his new life. It was such a wild trip, “Baker said. “It was such an amazing experience. I kept thinking, ‘I’ll never be here again and I’d never be here if not for this story.’ It was the most memorable.”
Baker writes about more than sports. And her sense of humor shines through the Russian winter in her title: “The Cold Never Bothered Him Anyway,” a nod to the Disney film, Frozen, in which the misunderstood queen fleas to the mountains to be alone with her icy powers.
The first fork in Baker’s professional path occurred after she’d graduated from The Lawrenceville School and left Pennington in 2001. While pursuing degrees in history and economics from Yale University, she had to choose between an internship at Sports Illustrated (one of her favorite reads) or one at Goldman Sachs. Realizing a future career switch from finance to journalism would be more viable than one from journalism to finance, Baker chose Goldman Sachs — but not without some tears in the process. She graduated Yale in 2005.
Baker joined the firm full-time after college and climbed quickly to vice president in wealth management, during which she witnessed the rise and fall of the economy from a choice seat on Wall Street. But by 2011, her writer’s voice could no longer be drowned out by the Pit’s open outcry and she left to be a sports writer on the ground at ESPN’s Grantland, the long-reads sports and pop culture website helmed by Bill Simmons.
Simmons left ESPN in 2015 and the site was shut down not long after. When Simmons started up a new site, The Ringer, in 2016, Baker rejoined him. The Ringer is based in Los Angeles with an office in New York. Baker, however, writes from the comfort of her home in Truckee, California, outside Lake Tahoe, where she and her husband, David Doppelt found solace four years ago after leaving big-time business positions in big time cities — Baker with Goldman Sachs and Doppelt with McKesson Corporation.
Doppelt now works as a ski instructor and for the state, while Baker plugs away on her keyboard — reporting on topics such as the 2018 Olympics. They have two sons, Graham, 2, and Malcolm, 4 weeks. They have a Labradoodle named Stanley.
They have fun often, they have made friends, and have settled into a lifestyle that is quite possibly just as idyllic as the one Baker remembers.