Barney the Beaver
Nearly a decade and a half ago, long before Oregon State was nationally recognized as a baseball factory, Pat Casey sat in Darwin Barney’s Beaverton home with a straightforward message to the Southridge High standout.
The Beavers had yet to qualify for an NCAA tournament under Casey, who took the helm prior to the 1995 season. But the coach believed he was on the brink of creating something special in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
“He comes in and tells me ‘hey, we think you are the last piece to help us turn the corner,’” Barney recalled before the Toronto Blue Jays’ June 25 matchup at Kansas City. Barney, an eight-year Major League Baseball veteran, has been with the Jays since 2015.
“I had followed them a little bit as I was looking at colleges, and in my mind I was like ‘come on.’ At the time the Pac-10 was very strong, and it still is, but it’s kind of a hard thing to believe when someone tells that to you. Fortunately I went there and realized I was one of many pieces that he had put together.”
Not even Casey could’ve predicted what was about to unfold.
With the likes of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dallas Buck, Jonah Nickerson and Mitch Canham already on board, Barney truly was among the final components that spawned one of the greatest — and most unexpected — runs in college baseball history. The Beavers made three straight College World Series appearances from 2005-07, winning back-to-back national titles the final two years.
Barney was the starting shortstop on all three clubs.
“He had the ‘it’ factor when I saw him play in high school,” Casey said of Barney, the 2005 Pac-10 freshman of the year. “He just became such a better player, worked on his craft, made the people around him better. I always say that the difference between being a good player and a great player is great players make the people around them better. (Darwin) is a great player.”
When Barney arrived on campus for the 2004-05 school year, OSU hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1986. That streak was about to end.
The Beavers finished the regular season 41-9 overall while claiming the Pac-10 title, their first championship since conference unification in 1999. OSU hosted the first two rounds of the postseason, advancing to the CWS by edging USC in the best-of-3 Corvallis Super Regional at Goss Stadium.
Barney started all three games against the Trojans, going 4 for 12 with two RBIs and three runs scored.
“He was a kid that had that confidence,” said former teammate Andy Jenkins, a current assistant for the Beavers who was a senior first baseman in 2005. Jenkins hit for the cycle in Game 3, going 5 for 5 with four RBIs.
“Out of high school, he was cocky but not arrogant. He was the guy that when the opposing team would hit a double, he goes and talks to the pitcher. He was always super competitive but also super loose, and I think you need that in baseball. He provided that for us.”
Along the way, Barney figured out one of Casey’s secrets. The coach had been recruiting high school shortstops, like Barney, and placing them all around the field.
The result was a ranging, instinctual defense that put OSU over the top.
“Guys like Cole Gillespie, Shea McFeely, Chris Kunda, Mitch Canham was an infielder,” Barney said. “It created this athletic defense to play behind the amazing pitching that we had. That’s kind of what the formula was.”
Making their first CWS appearance since 1952, the Beavers fell to top-seeded Tulane and No. 4 Baylor to finish 0-2 at Rosenblatt Stadium. Unseeded Texas ran the table en route to its sixth national title.
The short stay in Omaha would provide ample motivation for the numerous returning players, including Barney.
OSU successfully defended its Pac-10 title the following year and made it to Rosenblatt without a postseason defeat. But the Beavers would again drop their CWS opener, suffering an 11-1 thrashing at the hands of Miami.
“Losing the first game of the World Series, we couldn’t believe it,” Barney said. “We knew the battle ahead, but we also knew how good we were and we still fully believed in ourselves.”
The Beavers came back the next afternoon to defeat Georgia, the first CWS victory in program history. After getting revenge against the Hurricanes, OSU blanked Rice on consecutive days to set up a showdown with North Carolina in the finals.
Barney finished the best-of-3 championship series 6 for 13 with two RBIs and two runs scored as the Beavers overcame a Game 1 loss to win their first title.
Nickerson, a junior pitcher, was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Barney couldn’t have been far behind.
“He was right in the middle of everything we did offensively and defensively,” Casey said. “Darwin was one of those first guys that really believed we could do something like go to Omaha, like win a championship. He brought that electricity to us, he brought that fire to us.”
UNC ace Andrew Miller started Game 1 and faced one batter in the finale. Miller, who reached the majors that August, was an All-Star last year for the Cleveland Indians.
“I’m still facing Andrew Miller, and you don’t think (2006) crosses my mind?,” Barney said. “It’s all in good fun now, we’re grownups, but what an experience that was for us.”
Led by Ellsbury, Jenkins and a healthy Buck, Barney believes the 2005 squad possessed the most raw talent of any group during his OSU career while 2006 was the best overall team.
But 2007 was something much different.
With Canham, Barney and pitcher Mike Stutes highlighting a small group of returners, the youthful Beavers limped to a 10-14 record in Pac-10 play and finished the regular season 38-17. The defending national champions were among the final at-large selections to the NCAA tournament.
Shipped back east to Charlottesville, Virginia, OSU fell to the Cavaliers in its second game before fighting back to win the regional. With Michigan stunning top-seeded Vanderbilt, the Beavers wound up hosting a super regional for the third straight season.
OSU’s magical run continued with a sweep of the Wolverines as freshman pitcher Jorge Reyes emerged as a star. Reyes was named the CWS’ Most Outstanding Player after the Beavers went 5-0 in Omaha, including a sweep of North Carolina in a finals rematch.
Ryan Ortiz, now an undergraduate assistant for the Beavers, was a freshman catcher on the 2007 team.
“Just the way Darwin played, he brought everyone together,” Ortiz said. “We all would back him. He was just a hard baseball player and he led by example.”
Casey praised Barney for mentoring Joey Wong, a talented freshman from Sprague High who started at second. Wong and Reyes both went on to be three-year contributors for the Beavers.
“I feel like the 2007 team was very close,” Barney said. “It was a bunch of younger guys, new guys that came onto the scene that were fully bought in to the system. We came out and kind of struggled through the season and barely made it in, then what do you know …”
Ten years later, Barney is still playing the game that he loves.
A fourth-round (127th overall) pick by the Chicago Cubs, Barney made his MLB debut in 2010. He has suited up for the Cubs (2010-14), Los Angeles Dodgers (2014-15) and Toronto (2015-present) during his career, winning the 2012 Gold Glove at second base.
Barney credits Casey and his staff for preparing him for the next level.
“Being at Oregon State, that gives you a name,” Barney said. “It gives you the title of a winner. People assume you know how to play the game because you went through the system there, and I owe a lot to that.”
Ortiz and Jenkins both compared Barney to Nick Madrigal, the 2017 Pac-12 player and defensive player of the year.
Madrigal, also a middle infielder, is expected to be an early selection in the 2018 draft.
“They are the same type of player,” said Jenkins, a South Salem High product. “They get base hits, they make their plays, they are infectious with their teammates and they make the guys around them better.”
During the offseason, Barney resides in Lake Oswego with his wife, Lindsay, and three daughters. The MLB lifestyle can be challenging for a family man.
“If you are a single guy and you are doing this for 10-to-12 years now like I have since college, it’s not so bad,” Barney said. “Every day is hard for me. Just yesterday I got a video from my wife of my daughter graduating pre-school. They had their little gowns on. You are sad, you are happy, and you are trying to do what’s best for your family.
“The guilt is real, but in the end I’ve been building toward this my whole life, and to let that consume you would be unfair. That’s the toughest part of what I do, dealing with the lifestyle and trying to be at home at the same time.”
Barney follows the Beavers as much as possible, which isn’t easy during the busy MLB season.
He paid close attention as Michael Conforto and company reached Omaha in 2013 and was mesmerized by the 2017 team’s historic run, 10 years after the back-to-back titles. The Beavers finished 56-6 overall, three wins short of a third championship.
During the final loss to LSU, Barney said about 10 to 15 former teammates were involved in a group text chain. Many swapped stories about the past, and how 2005’s disappointing end led to the program’s future ascendance.
“We did things together that not many people get to do,” Barney said. “Winning one is special, and having the opportunity to win two is something that bonds us for a long time and something we don’t take for granted.
“I think the biggest thing we had in 2006 was we weren’t satisfied with getting to Omaha. To have this group get in and get their feet wet … they’re going to feel that getting there isn’t accomplishing too much, and the next step is taking it the whole way. I’m pretty sure that first little taste is plenty to give you the incentive and the drive.”