WASHINGTON -- Aaron Barrett settled into a hotel just a few blocks from Nationals Park on Tuesday night, not long after he cried and went viral.
He learned earlier in the day he was going back to the major leagues via a modest production organized by his Double-A manager, Matt LeCroy, and Nationals assistant general manager and vice president of player personnel, Doug Harris. During a pre-postseason workout, LeCroy called Barrett over to stand in front of the team. At first, he informed the 31-year-old he was going to be captain of the team for the playoffs.
“I was just kind of like, all right, cool,” Barrett said.
LeCroy added Harrisburg would be creating an award going forward, the Aaron Barrett Captain Award.
“OK, that’s kind of cool,” Barrett thought.
Then LeCroy arrived at the point: Barrett was going back to the big leagues.
“I was just like holy crap,” Barrett said. “Then the guys mobbed me.”
LeCroy cried when dispatching the news, Barrett cried when receiving it. His wife, Kendyl, cried when she found out. Barrett cried again Wednesday morning.
Four years went by since he last pitched in the major leagues on Aug. 5, 2015, and the days since included doubt and darkness, stints in short-season A-ball, a Tommy John surgery and harrowing broken arm in 2016. The fracture of his humerus bone caused him to scream from pain and defeat. Nationals pitching coach Paul Menhart was standing on the mound behind Barrett when the arm snapped.
“I almost wanted to throw up,” Menhart said Wednesday morning. “It was that disgusting. The sound. The screams and the, 'Why me?' that were coming out of his mouth. And then afterward, I had to call his wife to let her know he’s OK and that kind of thing, but I need you to get over here quickly. Broke his arm. There was no easy way to say it but to say it. It was one of the most traumatic experiences I’ve had to witness. I can’t even imagine the pain he was going through when that happened.”
Menhart joined a slew of others who had joyous thoughts Wednesday when Barrett first came through the clubhouse and his new (or old, in some cases) teammates walked bleary-eyed into their second home. Max Scherzer met him with a giant hug. Adam Eaton said, “You’re [expletive] unbelievable.” Anthony Rendon walked right into him upon entering the clubhouse. They hugged. Michael A. Taylor hugged him. A round of embraces followed from clubhouse assistants to staff members to other players.
“The road he’s had to travel to get back to here, it’s been an eternity,” Scherzer told NBC Sports Washington. “I can only imagine what it’s been like being in his shoes. But the thing about Bearcat is he’s had an amazing, positive attitude. Every time I’ve ever been around him -- lives in Atlanta, gone over to his house and had little team parties -- he’s always been upbeat about where he’s been in his rehab between the Tommy John and broken arm and it’s amazing to see someone make it all the way back. So many guys don’t. When you’re out of the game for that long, it’s really hard to get back here, but he had a dream to get back here and he’s living his dream out and getting to be in this clubhouse is really special and it’s awesome that he’s here.”
The Nationals began to send scouts to check on Barrett in Harrisburg during the middle of the season. They went back more often as the year moved along, watching his recovery and sharpness of his sliders. His velocity slowly went up. Eventually, he grabbed a dubious record: Barrett is now the Senators’ all-time saves leader -- recording saves in 2013 and 2019 -- which is more fodder for jabs than point of pride. His 2.75 ERA in Harrisburg this season earned him the chance to go back to the majors.
“It’s really, for me, it’s almost a miracle,” LeCroy said.
“I know a lot of people would have given up by now,” Rendon said. “I probably would have given up by now. I think that’s a testament to who he is as a person, his character and how much he loves this game.”
Menhart made a promise to Barrett in spring training: when he returned to the major leagues, he would be there. It was easy to fulfill once he received the job of pitching coach during the season. Barrett’s brother, wife, daughter, parents and grandparents all boarded planes to join them at Nationals Park on Wednesday. Barrett warmed up before the seventh inning, but returned to his seat when the Mets’ lead shrank from six to three.
Barrett was still adjusting in the morning. He broke down when talking to reporters about his wife, whom he said was his nurse for “about two years.” She was the first call after LeCroy’s news break.
“I was crying obviously, she was balling,” Barrett said. “Makes me emotional just thinking about it. I called her and told her, 'We're going back.’”
His repertoire remains the same, though his number and locker is different. Barrett wore No. 32 Wednesday and was stationed in Matt Grace’s former stall. The setting was “surreal,” like it would be for anyone walking through an actual dream come true. For four years, he groaned and hoped. Wednesday delivered him back into the stadium. All that remains is a trip to the mound.
“There were some times, [quitting] definitely crossed my mind,” Barrett said. “At first, when I just first started throwing a ball, I didn't think I’d be able to throw a ball in general. and then there were times where I didn't know if Id get through it, just the pain was too much. There's just so much going on I couldn't take it.
"But I'm not a quitter, never have been and I found it in myself to keep pushing forward and I said it all along, when I make it back it’s going to be a hell of a comeback story. And like I said I'm pretty overwhelmed that I'm here to be honest with you. It's crazy.”
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