Tucker Barnhart never felt he was on an island by himself. As the player representative for the Cincinnati Reds, he said he had the support of his teammates throughout the negotiations between the players association and Major League Baseball.
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However, Barnhart felt the stress throughout the process, which ended Tuesday as both sides came to an agreement and decided to move ahead with the 2020 season in late July.
“It’s been tough,” said Barnhart, a Gold Glove catcher in 2017 who’s entering his seventh season with the Reds. “It’s been really frustrating. It’s been really stressful. It’s been about every emotion you can really think of.”
Barnhart knew at some point he might have to ask teammates to risk their lives and the well being of their families by playing during the coronavirus pandemic or he was going to cost them millions of dollars by deciding not to play.
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Through it all, though, Barnhart said the players wanted to return. They wanted to play. He knows back-and-forth drama that took up May and much of June hurt the game.
“It’s a shame the ramifications of this are going to be felt for a long time,” Barnhart said. “I grew up a baseball fan. I’m a baseball fan first. I think it sucks it has gone on the way it has. I hope getting out and playing will kind of mask some of the bruises the game as a whole has taken over the last few months.”
Players will return to training camp July 1, and the season will begin July 23 or July 24 for the Reds. Major League Baseball had not yet announced a schedule as of Thursday afternoon.
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When the news broke of the season returning, Barnhart borrowed a quote from the movie “Major League” and wrote, “Let’s win the whole (bleeping) thing,” on Twitter.
While some fans and media have debated if the champion of a 60-game season will be legitimate, Barnhart’s not buying that, assuming teams are able to complete the schedule and playoffs and there aren’t any major setbacks because of COVID-19.
“It’s going to be kind of refreshing because in a 60-game season, every game is going to matter,” Barnhart said. “Every pitch is going to matter. Not that they don’t, but they are going to carry a lot more weight this year. Decisions are going to be a lot more impactful on the game and on the season. It kind of reminds me of high school. In Indiana and I’m sure it’s similar in Ohio, you had to play 35 games to win the state championship. We’re not that far out of that playing 60. It’s kind of a blast from the past.”
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In fact, if the Reds end a 30-year championship drought or even win a postseason series for the first time since 1995, it might be more memorable than if they had done it after a 162-game season.
“This year is going to truly never be forgotten,” Barnhart said.
Barnhart, who’s from Brownsburg, Ind., spent the spring at home and has stayed in baseball mode. He caught Indianapolis native Drew Storen, a veteran pitcher, all spring, and in the last two weeks, Barnhart has made trips to Cincinnati to catch Reds pitchers Wade Miley, Lucas Sims, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. Miley, Castillo and Gray all threw 60-pitch bullpen sessions.
“I would be willing to bet a lot of guys, as long as they’ve had the capability of throwing and working out this entire time,” Barnhart said, “everybody is pretty close to where they would be — maybe a month behind where we would normally be.
Barnhart will feel better about his ability to return to action once he’s seen live game action, faced right-handed and left-handed pitching, fielded a play at the plate, framed pitches and thrown out a runner at second.
“Once I check those boxes, then I’ll feel pretty confident,” he said.