09/11/06 9:19 PM ET
Barajas wants to be the No. 1 man
Catcher has split time with fellow backstop Laird this season
By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com
Easy for him to blow his top, to lose his composure or spout off about the 2006 season.
But that's just not his style. You see, even as Barajas has watched his transformation from being the club's No. 1 catcher the past two seasons to half of the durable duo behind the plate with Gerald Laird this season, he remains calm.
He says baseball is his responsibility and his job is behind home plate, but his most important gig rests at his homestead -- as a husband and father of five -- and that keeps him sane.
The baseball part will work itself out, he likes to say. It always does. Barajas, 30, is a free agent at the end of the season.
"Personally, the season has gone well but I'm not going to say great," he said. "I have not played as much as I have in the last couple of years, but I feel like when I have been in there I have been productive. I felt like I have done my job and helped this team out. I've put our pitchers in good situations and defensively, I feel like I am right there."
Through Monday, Barajas is hitting .257 with 11 home runs and 39 RBIs in 92 games. He started the season as the club's No. 1 catcher, but Laird's emergence has cut into his playing time. Last season, Barajas had a career year, hitting .258 with 21 home runs and 60 RBIs in 120 games. He hit 15 home runs and drove in 58 runs in 2004 after taking over for an injured Laird early in the season.
"I think it's one of the biggest strengths of our club," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said. "I know in years past, we would always worry about a catcher getting hurt. We are fortunate that neither of them has been hurt this year."
Neither catcher has been injured, but it would be unfair to assume neither has been hurt by the diminished playing time. That said, Barajas has never been one to complain. He's also never been one to not evaluate his situation and his future. He wants to be a full-time catcher. The desire might be fulfilled with the Rangers. It might not.
"This year has been something different," he said. "When I have had the opportunity to play every day and be the No. 1 guy, that's when I have done my best work. I feel like at the point this year when my playing time when down, I was pretty much on pace to do what I did the year before. That slowed down my progress. I just need to make sure that whenever I do get in there that I am able to stay productive and keep myself sharp.
"The years where I have backed up or split time, the numbers are not quite there," he continued. "I am looking for a situation where I can be my best and that's playing every day."
The Rangers have publicly expressed interest in bringing Barajas back for the future, but no decision has been made by either party.
Perhaps that should come as no surprise to Barajas because little has come easy for the California native. In fact, the tale of his ascension to status as a full-time Major League catcher is stuff of legends, a story that gives every underdog hope. He went undrafted out of college but was signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1996 after a tryout. He was called a long shot and toiled in the Minor Leagues for four seasons. He was eventually called a hero after hitting a home run in Game 5 of the 2001 World Series to cap off a season spent mostly at the Triple-A level.
He still smiles when he tells the story of his rise to the big leagues, but Barajas is not one to dwell on the past. He's ready to embrace a new chapter in his life, and a familiar theme continues to surface -- Rod wants to be the No. 1 man and nobody is going to stop him.
"It's all about the hard work and believing in yourself," he said. "Bottom line, if you let other people influence how you see yourself and let that get in your head, you will not succeed. I was told plenty of times that I was too slow and did not hit for enough power. I could have let that get the best of me and start believing that, but I was not going to let that happen. It went in one ear and out the other."
Family helps. A lot.
Barajas and his wife, Stacie, have four young boys -- Andrew, Bryce, Rod Jr. and Jace -- and one daughter, Aunalilia. The catcher jokes that he has five children and his wife has six because he is the biggest kid of them all.
"Everybody is nuts about baseball and the inside of our living room is basically a baseball field because the bases are everywhere," Barajas said. "They enjoy being kids and I'm really enjoying that right now. You think my daughter, being surrounded by four boys, that she would be a tomboy, but she's a little girl, as girly as they come. It's nice to have her there and hug.
"I can't tell you how many compliments I get about how well-behaved my kids are and I jokingly say it has nothing to do with me," Barajas continued. "When I get home, I'm a kid, too. Stacie is the one who keeps them in line and raises them."
There is little doubt that Barajas' perspective off the field has helped his performance on it. When the Rangers lose, he grimaces, yet he always finds a way to smile when he gets back home. Maybe that's how he keeps his cool when things do not go as planned.
"I love the fact that he is a great father and a great husband," Showalter said. "He has the reality of life figured out a little bit. He has had a lot of people telling him he could not do it, but he goes out and does it."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.