Tuesday afternoon, Aaron Barrett walked the hallway from the Nationals’ weight room to Manager Matt Williams’s office. He knew a conversation that would change his life awaited. He would live out every little’s boy dream, became a big leaguer and land the kind of security that had been elusive for four years. Or he wouldn’t.
Barrett sat down on a soft, blue couch. Pitching coach Steve McCatty sat next to Williams behind a desk. “We have some tough choices to make,” Williams told Barrett. “And you’re one of those tough decisions.” Williams stopped talking and looked at him.
“It was a five-to-10-second pause there,” Barrett said later. “I think it lasted like 10 minutes.”
Finally, Williams broke the silence. “Congratulations,” Williams said. “You made the team.”
At the start of spring training, Barrett envisioned throwing a few innings, making an impression and laying groundwork for a midsummer call-up. His wicked slider stood out to Nationals coaches. Games began, and he piled up zeroes. Hitters in the Grapefruit League could not him any better than the ones in the Eastern League. It became clear he was one of the seven best relievers in camp.
As he heard the news, tears filled his eyes. McCatty hugged him. He walked back to the clubhouse, and the big leaguers he now called teammates congratulated him and hugged him. “Pretty surreal,” Barrett said.
Barrett, 26, grabbed his cell phone, walked to the dugout and called his wife, Kendyl, on FaceTime. Since the Nationals drafted him in 2010, Barrett had made the annual $13,000 salary teams pay minor leaguers who haven’t been on a 40-man roster. Kendyl supported him through her job as a wedding planner and event coordinator. He rode buses. She made ends meet. It had rarely been easy. Barrett sat on a metal bench and saw his wife start crying. He started crying again, too.
“She was shocked,” Barrett said. “We’ve been through a lot as far as the whole minor leagues. We’ve been through that stuff. She’s working and supported me throughout the whole minor leagues. To finally get that call that I made the team, she was just overwhelmed.”
Barrett’s mother is a school teacher, and this week happened to be her spring break. She had planned all winter to be in Viera on a trip with Barrett’s father and grandparents. They all went out dinner and celebrated. They reflected on how Barrett made it, and how improbable it once seemed.
The Nationals sent Barrett to rookie ball in Vermont, and the simple act of throwing a ball abandoned him. In the bullpen, fellow pitches scattered when he climbed the mound. “I guess some people call it the yips,” he said earlier this spring. He can talk about it now because he beat it. Not many pitchers do.
“Going from not being able to feel a baseball in my hand to this point, makes this moment that much more real and more enjoyable,” Barrett said. “Knowing how far I’ve come, and my teammates watched me go through what I did, makes this moment right now that much more enjoyable.”
Barrett pitched again Wednesday afternoon. He retired all three batters he faced and ran his scoreless spring to 10 2/3 innings. He faced 34 batters this month. He struck out eight, allowed five hits and walked none. His elation, he knows, will fade quickly. He can handle that. “Now,” he said, “let’s go win some ballgames.”
FROM THE POST
The Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy is open at last, James Wagner writes.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
MATT WILLIAMS’S QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Play like a champion today.”
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY