MESA, Ariz. Darwin Barney was talking about The Cubs Way long before Theo Epstein left Fenway Park.
Barney saw the big picture and listened to the plan outlined by the new Ricketts ownership group. He loved playing for Ryne Sandberg in the minors and thought a homegrown core could win big in Chicago.
They would bond by riding buses, playing cards and growing up together. Thats what Barney talked about with good friend Tyler Colvin, whos since been traded to the Colorado Rockies.
One part of this rebuilding phase will be seeing if Barney and Starlin Castro can anchor the middle infield for years to come. Ex-manager Mike Quade thought they could, which is why he seemed much harder on them and singled them out in the media, while usually giving a free pass to the veterans.
I dont look back on it that way, Barney said Thursday. You look back and you remember we had to get better. Someone telling you that is not a bad thing. So I dont look at it negatively at all.
On a July afternoon where the temperature hovered near 100 degrees, Quade sounded out of touch when he blasted Castro and Barney (play with some freaking intensity) for letting a pop-up drop between themin the first inningof a 9-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
I look back at this whole game and look at that play, Quade said that day in the interview room. The suns been in the same damn spot for however long Wrigley Fields been here.
Its no surprise that Barney whos polished and self-aware and speaks in full paragraphs would take the high road. He has won titles everywhere hes been Little League, high school and Oregon State University, where future Boston Red Sox star Jacoby Ellsbury noticed his freshman teammate immediately emerge as a leader.
Barney is 26 years old and bulked up to around 190 pounds this winter, regaining the weight he lost during spring training and across a long, draining season in which he hit .306 before the All-Star break, and .238 after.
You got one shot, he said. You got one window in this game and my thought was: Why not now?
The extra 20 pounds or so made an impression on new manager Dale Sveum, who said Barneys a lot stronger and a lot quicker than I thought.
Hes one of those ultimate professionals thats going to try to make himself a better player every day, and thats what you want on a team, Sveum said.
Can Barney be an everyday second baseman for an entire season?
Hes put himself in (position), Sveum said. (With) the weight and muscle hes put on, I think he realized the grind of it last year, how to handle it a bit differently, especially (mentally) when everythings sped up because its the big leagues. It takes a lot more out of your body than a minor-league game (where) there are 5,000 people in the stands instead of 35,000.
Barney had played shortstop almost his entire life, but was blocked by Castro, so he essentially learned how to play second base at the major-league level. An All-Star shortstop and a steady second baseman both under club control and in their pre-prime years could be building blocks for Epsteins front office.
Starlin and I have good communication, Barney said. Were good buddies and we enjoy playing together. Hes one of the most talented guys Ive ever been around. (We) know how last year shaped up and it was a tough year all around. Were excited to have a clean slate.