The 2012 Houston Astros season was one of the more enjoyable seasons I have watched in recent memory.
With a rebuilding team in the midst of ownership, managerial and roster changes not much was to be expected of the veterans of the team other than they would likely be playing elsewhere before the conclusion of the season.
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
After a solid start to the year in which the team found themselves in contention, the losses began to accumulate as the veterans began to depart. This scenario did however provide an excellent opportunity for a restocking of the farm system as well as a chance for prospects to move up through the Astros farm system and potentially have a shot at The Show.
Because of this, I began to follow the minors closer than I ever had in the past. The big names in our system quickly jumped out as potential stars to keep my eye on. Jon Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Delino DeShields Jr. among others.
In the list of those names a young outfielder by the name of Brandon Barnes caught my eye. Barnes soared through both the Double-A and Triple-A affiliates and at the beginning of August was called up to the Astros to replace the injured Jordan Schafer.
The 6th round draft pick in 2005 had served six years in the minor leagues after being drafted from Cypress College in California. His bat was extremely impressive in the minors though he did have some struggles this year dealing with the next level of talent that is major league caliber pitching. However, many prospects tend to go through that same type of learning curve at the plate.
What impressed me about Barnes was his excitement and charisma for the game as well as his ability with the glove.
Brandon was kind enough to grant an interview to Climbing Tal’s Hill. His hustle is outstanding, and when I asked who he modeled his game after I can’t say I was surprised by his response.
"[Like Pete Rose] I play as hard as I can for the entire game never giving up, playing with my heart and soul. Watching Edmonds gave me chills when I was younger, I would go in my backyard and act like I was making diving catches to save games. The speed and knowledge on the bases Rickey Henderson brought to the game was undeniably a game changer, I continue to work on my speed so that I can help not only with defense and offense but base running as well."
The backyard practice clearly paid off for Barnes as Astros fans quickly saw just what a game changer he could be chasing down would-be extra base hits and turning them into outs. Minute Maid Park’s dimensions are extremely tricky, and a big deal has been made especially this year about the field, specifically our namesake, Tal’s Hill. For Barnes, it just makes the game that much more fun.
"I love Minute Maid Park. The dimensions, the Crawford Boxes and the hill all play into my type of game. It gives me tons of room to run around and run down some well hit balls. The gaps are big so it gives me more of a chance to get into scoring position for the guys that will drive me in. The park is beautiful and so fun to play in."
Barnes became a staple on Web Gems and ESPN’s “Top 10 Plays” during the year making catches that made you stop and scratch your head and ask “how did that guy just make that catch?” It made being an Astros fan that much more enjoyable and optimistic when thinking about the future.
Barnes has his sights set on the future as well.
"This has been a lot of hard work that has paid off but I don’t look at it that way. The way I look at it is the work has just begun and it is time to work harder than ever. I wouldn’t say I have accomplished quite a bit because things like a number one play on ESPN and my first hit are all personal gains, not team gains. I will feel like I accomplished something when we go to the playoffs or even a World Series, it takes a team to go that far."
Playoffs. World Series. These were goals set by Barnes that I was very impressed with. He reiterated just what these long term goals meant to him and that short term goals didn’t rank high on his list of accomplishments.
"I don’t believe In short term goals, I believe in life long goals that cannot be taken from you. I have goals of helping our team get to the postseason and one day winning a World Series. I am already in Venezuela refining my approach and working to become a more patient and disciplined hitter. In the past I have had to work a full time job as well as try and get ready for a season so this year I get to dedicate all my time to become a more complete ball player."
In regards to the team changing leagues next year:
"I think the AL West is going to be good for us because it is an extremely intense league where every night you’re going to have to go out there and give it everything you have. It will only make us stronger."
As he mentioned, Barnes is currently player winter ball in Venezuela. Last winter he spent time in Australia, playing in as many games as possible in order to become a complete hitter. Safety in other countries is a concern to some players, but Barnes has confidence and trust in the people around him. An admirable trait.
"Baseball has truly blessed me, I get to travel to different countries playing a game. You get to see how other cultures live and maybe if we are lucky we can learn a little something from each culture and apply it to our life. I have never been worried about my safety because everywhere we go there are people looking out for us and taking good care of us."
Barnes is a strong believer in Christ, and plays his game to honor his Lord and Savior. The personal recognition is always nice for any player, but Barnes answers to a calling much higher than the gratification that he himself is doing a good job on the diamond.
"I don’t play this game to glorify myself, I play this game to give all the glory to God. He has given me an opportunity to be on the biggest stage in my career and I use that stage to glorify him. I know that all of this was possible because of Him.Last year I debated on quitting and going home because of the struggles I was going through on the field. I have never been one to quit and I hate failure so this feeling I had was indescribable. I received a phone call from my pastor late that night and I remember the exact words he told me without me even telling him I was struggling and wanted to quit. He said ‘God put you where you are because he has a plan for you that is greater than you know, you will touch peoples lives because of the game of baseball.’ So now I look at everyday as a blessing from God and I must turn peoples attention to Him."
The “I AM SECOND” campaign has caught fire in recent years among athletes and many others, Josh Hamilton being a notable name. I asked Barnes just what the message he was conveying along with many others meant to him.
"The message is simple. I AM SECOND symbolizes that we do not come first in this life. Our Heavenly Father is first in all we do. Without that relationship we are nothing. For me it gives me an opportunity to talk or open a conversation with someone because of the I AM SECOND logo as well as the bracelet I wear."
One of my favorite questions to ask any athlete is what was their “wow” moment. At what point did they have to take a step back and just say “wow, I am really here.”
"My wow moment would have to be stepping out on to Minute Maid Field for the first time as a player on the team. I was overwhelmed with joy and just wanted to go run around like a little kid on the playground."
That is the beauty of baseball. Often times we forget that the team we cheer on, the players we grow to love and the game we watch is being played in Little League parks around the globe. Those young kids will grow up and for a lucky and talented few, they too will get to realize their dreams much like today’s stars are doing now.
For me, that is what makes this game so exciting to write about. That’s what makes this game so exciting to watch. That’s what makes this game better than any game I know.
On behalf of Climbing Tal’s Hill, huge thanks to Brandon Barnes for allowing me the privilege of interviewing him.