Do you have a “guy?”
I guess I should define what I mean:
GUY (pronounced “ɡī”). Noun/adjective.
A current or former MLB player that, while never particularly excelling or reaching star status, radiates likability and creates an emotional connection with fans.
With that in mind, I’ve had a few players fit the bill in my days. Some were highly-touted prospects that couldn’t quite figure out big league pitching; others were MLB hangers-on that tried their best to fill a role. The guy that comes to mind first and foremost, though, is always Brandon Barnes.
For those that are unaware, Barnes played in MLB for six seasons with the Astros, Rockies, and Indians organizations, as well as with the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO League. The Orange, California native was originally drafted by Houston in the sixth round of the 2005 draft and would make his big league debut in 2012. 2013 was Barnes’ best statistical season at that point, as he slashed .240/.289/.346 with 17 doubles, eight home runs, and 47 RBI. That caught the eye of then-Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd, who made a move to send fan-favorite outfielder Dexter Fowler to Houston in exchange for Barnes and right-handed starter Jordan Lyles in what was a very controversial trade.
Root cause of the trade aside, Barnes was now in purple. His first season in Colorado was decent, if not spectacular, as he backed up the likes of Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Carlos González, and Drew Stubbs in the outfield. While receiving less at-bats (313 in 2014, versus 445 in his previous season with the ‘Stros), he was still able to be effective in his debut Rockies campaign, finishing the season with a .257/.293/.425 slash to go along with, again, 17 doubles and eight home runs. A solid defensive outfielder, Barnes’ glove work was highlighted in situations such as the following, when he stole a sure-double from the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter:
It was plays like that that really grabbed my attention. Here was someone not getting consistent playing time, not really getting a chance to establish himself as a starter, but still laying out to make highlight-reel plays in a blowout win. That was his personality, though: Barnes was always bringing that kind of frenetic energy to the clubhouse. In November of 2015, Thomas Harding grabbed this quote from Barnes about his attitude toward the game:
“I think I was born with it. I’ve always been hyper, I’ve always been kind of goofy, and I just enjoy the game so much that I just want to have fun every single day. It’s short-lived, you know, you never know when you’re going to be out of this game, and I just want to enjoy every single moment, and I want every single one of my teammates to enjoy it. And just live in the moment, live in that day.”
That was another part of his game that I came to admire: his positivity and drive to just have fun. After all, it’s always easier to get behind a player that you know is having as good a time playing the game as you are watching it, especially on some not-great Rockies teams (in his three seasons in Colorado, the Rockies never eclipsed 75 wins).
There are always individual moments, though. These are the times we remember above all else, and when it comes to Barnes, there are two pretty similar instances that will forever be etched into the minds of Rockies fans.
In his time with the Rockies, Barnes hit a total of ten home runs. Two of them were inside-the-park homers, though one was of a bit more significance than the other.
The first came in a 12-7 loss to the Diamondbacks. While not exactly a game-changing moment, it was a very cool moment to see one of the rarest plays in baseball. I happened to be in the crowd that evening, and while the play didn’t fully soothe the sting of the loss, it was my (and my father’s) first time seeing an inside-the-parker, and that’s something we’ll both remember forever.
The second, though... Hoo boy.
Barnes repeated his rare feat just nine days later in San Francisco. He faced a situation that most of us have imagined while playing in our backyards with our friends: two outs, tying run at first, himself the go-ahead run as he faced Giants closer Sergio Romo. Barnes took an 0-1 slider and punched it out to center field for a single. Or well, it would’ve been a single, but center fielder Ángel Pagán couldn’t reel it in and the ball traveled into the spacious San Fransico outfield. Barnes, recognizing his opportunity, immediately turned on the jets and sprinted all the way around the bases, scoring the go-ahead run and setting the Rockies up for the victory.
This moment is one of my top three Rockies memories, right up there with Helton celebrating the World Series trip and Nolan Arenado’s walk-off cycle homer. Baseball doesn’t allow walk-off home runs in the top half of an inning, of course, but I want you to watch the highlight clip and tell me that an exception couldn’t be made in this instance:
Am I making too big a deal of this play? I don’t know, maybe. To me, though, it can be rare to find moments that are so visceral, so raw. It’s impossible to see Barnes rise to his feet from his slide, toss his helmet, throw up his arms and roar like Godzilla himself, and not feel at least a bit of righteous fury yourself. I mean I watch this as a pre-match warmup, you know?
Unfortunately, these isolated moments were the peak of Barnes’ Rockies tenure. After receiving even fewer at-bats in 2015, he’d be released by Colorado in September of 2016. After slashing just .220 in 48 games, the Rockies had decided it was time to move on from the sparkplug outfielder, who would not see major league action for the next two seasons. He’d make a quick stop in Cleveland before heading to South Korea to play for the Hanwha Eagles in 2020, and after this stint overseas, Barnes finally called it a career in December of last year.
It may seem a little excessive to fawn over the career of an athlete that only played six MLB seasons, and just three of those with the Rockies. That’s the thing about having a “guy,” though: their time on your screen may be short, but they leave an impact. Never an All-Star, rarely a starter, Brandon Barnes stood out simply because of his fire, his positivity, and a few absolutely spectacular moments. If nothing else, he gave us an indelible moment of joy and disbelief in San Francisco, and that’s good enough for me.
Do you have a “guy” you’d like me to reflect on? Let me know in the comments below!