So what was it like to spend two months at the Washington Nationals’ Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia? Did it compare to two months of Spring Training? Like a rehab assignment? Or was it like being in the minors for a few months? Nope. Nope. And nope.
At least it’s not like any of those experiences according to Aaron Barrett, who painted a (humorously?) dark picture of life in Fredericksburg.
“It’s not real,” Barrett said after he was called back up to the majors on Tuesday afternoon to join the club in Tampa Bay.
“It’s, uh, nothing is real, honestly,” Barrett continued. “I mean it’s — it’s one of those things, you can’t control it, you know, it is what it is, and I think that’s kind of the summary of 2020.
“With everything that’s going on, you’re just going to have to roll with the punches. It’s something that you can’t control, so you have a choice to either sit there and complain about it, or you suck it up and stay positive and just get after it every day.
“It’s just — it can be frustrating, and again, I think I was pounding my head into the wall for a while because I was trying to recreate something that I wasn’t able to create. It was just non-existent. I was trying to create an atmosphere, I was trying to create a specific intensity, but it’s not just realistic, and there are a lot of challenges this year, and obviously with the big league season there are challenges in itself, but the alternate site was a grind. It was hands down a grind.”
Part of the grind that was particularly troublesome for pitchers?
The small number of position players at the facility working out and trying to stay sharp in case they got the call.
“Facing the same guys over and over again,” Barrett explained, “I can have a ton of success, one outing, two outings, doing everything I’m capable of doing, and then that next outing, doing what I’m really good at and getting zero results, because that guy has now faced me for the 15th time, and I’m not a surprising anybody at that point.
“There are certain challenges with that, you know obviously the bubble life, and just there are a lot of different challenges.
“Obviously missing family and again, like I said, during this 2020 season, all around it, it’s had its challenges, but you know what I think it’s made me persevere, again, on another level, and it’s really showed me that I need to trust this entire process, and just continue to stay positive and know that the end result will be there if you continue to put the work in, so I’m just happy to be back.”
Barrett, of course, knows perseverance, having fought back from Tommy John surgery in 2015, and a fractured elbow in 2016, suffered as he was rehabbing, which kept him off the mound in competitive action until late 2018, but he made an emotional return to the majors last season, and he did the work in Fredericksburg this year while he waited for another call.
“Obviously I’m super-excited to be back,” Barrett said, though getting the call after Tanner Rainey landed on the 10-Day IL with a right flexor strain, made it bittersweet.
“Unfortunately [it’s] under the circumstances — it was under someone else getting hurt, but obviously I’m super-pumped to be back and hopefully help these guys win some games.”
It wasn’t all bad in Fredericksburg. Barrett said he and the rest of the players there tried to make the best of it, though there were some odd circumstances that added to the overall weirdness.
“There’s a couple different scenarios,” Barrett said. “Like Brandon Snyder was warming me up [before] one game in the bullpen, and feeling good, and I go out there and the first guy I faced is Brandon Snyder. I’m like, ‘You literally just caught me for 20 pitches.’ So I’m not tricking him at all at that point ... and Jake Noll is hilarious, he — every single time I’m up to pitch he tells me he’s going to hit a homer off me. So there’s like that little inter-web of competitiveness, making little side bets here and there, so he tells me I’m going to hit a homer off me, and I’m like, ‘You’re not going to get a homer off me, Jake.’ And so one outing I went three up, three down, and he starts walking to the plate. My inning is over, and I see him walking up, and I say, ‘Alright, Jake, get in the box!’
“It was just fun. Stuff like that just made it fun. Just trying to keep things interesting.
“I did get him to pop out to first base, so he definitely lost that bet, but he’s been awesome.”
There were also some sandlot, not-enough-players-to-field-two-full-teams-type arguments when it came to outcomes, and judging what were hits and homers, when you’re trying to simulate a game.
“Oh yeah, many times,” Barrett said. “[Infield Coordinator] Jeff Garber most of the times is playing first base, and Tommy Shields our other coordinator, he’s kind of calling the shots on what’s a hit and what’s not. There was a couple times where I had to question a routine fly ball. ‘Double,’ he says. I’m like, ‘What? No. No shot.’
“So there were a couple times where Andrew Stevenson, who traditionally plays left field or right field, and there will be a ball hit, and I’ll just yell out, ‘Stevie, you got that?’
“And he’s like, ‘Yep.’ Alright, that’s an out. Just having fun like that.”
He finally got the call he’d been working for though, and Barrett said that while he did think at times it might not come this year, he was thrilled it did.
“I did, early, I definitely — there are times that you can get frustrated on not getting called up, or this and that, but that’s again, something that I can’t control,” he said.
“Obviously during this process you take a step back and I’ve had the guys down at the Alternate Site, we were able to come together.
“We really have to rely on each other. We had multiple conversations every day, trying to stay positive, because we’re all in the same boat together down there, so at a certain point I realized I can’t control when I get called up or not. It doesn’t matter. I’m just going to go out there and compete and have fun and make pitches, and at the end of the day that’s really all I can do. And I think in general this 2020 season and everything that’s going on, I think in all actuality, if we just really simplify everything, and really just focus on what we can control, I really think that we would be in a better place, for sure. And that’s — this has been a grind, and hopefully we can — there’s still a chance, we’ve still got a shot, and as long as that number doesn’t say 0%, I truly believe that we’ve still got a shot, so if we can just continue to focus on what we can control, you never know.”
Barrett ended up tossing 1 2⁄3 scoreless on 22 pitches (12 strikes), giving up two hits and a walk in his return to the majors. He came on in the sixth with a runner on and one out and gave up a single to center before dialing up an inning-ending 6-4-3. In the seventh he was able to work around a single and an intentional walk.
“He was good. Really good,” manager Davey Martinez said after a 6-1 loss to the Rays in Tampa Bay.
“He was down in Fredericksburg, he was throwing the ball well, his two-seamer they said was really good, his slider was good.
“He came in today and I told him, ‘Hey, get the ground ball that I know you can get.’ He got the first one, went through, but he got the second one and turned the double play.
“I thought he threw the ball really well today.”
“It was different,” Barrett said of his first experience of pandemic baseball.
“It was great though. Any time for me to be able to toe a big league mound, is always going to be a special moment for me, regardless of if there’s any fans in the stands or not.
“I was trying to have fun, trying to keep us in the ballgame, and trying to make pitches. But I really enjoyed it, had a great time, and hopefully we can get out there tomorrow and get a W.”