Austin Barnes and the tools of persistence
By Mark Whicker
LOS ANGELES — Austin Barnes, bench-bound as a freshman, heard the clock ticking.
As a sophomore he wanted to make Arizona State’s travel squad so desperately that he would have tuned up the bus..
Instead he did something more dangerous and frustrating and potentially as degrading. He became a catcher..
“Both catchers got hurt and the coaches came to me,,” Barnes said. “I figured it was the quickest way to get ahead. It was also going to be a clearer path to the big leagues.
“The toughest part to learn was blocking the ball. I got blown up a lot. I didn’t break any fingers, but when you hurt your thumb, you learn how to catch the ball properly real quick.”
Through his youth career and at Riverside Poly, Barnes was a shortstop and a second baseman. No mitt, no mask, no shin guards, no 93 mph hand grenades stirring the dirt at his feet, not once.
Catching is what you do when you don’t think baseball is hard enough. But Barnes was looking at something more than survival.
“The impressive thing happened the next season,” said Tim Esmay, who was Arizona State’s assistant coach when the conversion happened, then took over the head spot.
“I got with him and said, look, you can go back to the infield now. We’re OK. He said no. He said this was a new challenge and he wanted to answer it.”
Barnes became an All Pac 12 catcher. He also became the ninth-round choice of the Marlins. “As a 5-foot-10 infielder, I don’t know if that would have happened,” Barnes said.
Now he is one more gadget for the Dodgers.
He catches, he occasionally plays second base, and on Friday night he whacked a grand slam and a 3-run homer in the same game at San Diego. Now he has 18 RBI in 119 […]