Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett left off playoff roster but throws ceremonial first pitch

Back in May, the Washington Nationals were 12 games under .500. Any mention of the playoffs seemed laughable.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

But then they went on a summer tear — 18-8 in June, 15-10 in July, 19-7 in August. In September, though unable to catch the Atlanta Braves in the NL East, the Nationals went 17-11, won their last eight games, and secured the top wild card berth by four games over Milwaukee.

That led the Nationals to host the Brewers for the NL wild-card game Tuesday night. With two outs in the eighth inning, Washington trailed 3-1. But then a bases-loaded single from Juan Soto, aided by an error from Brewers right fielder Trent Grisham, drove home three runs. The Nats’ 4-3 victory, their ninth straight, sends them to L.A. to face the league-best Dodgers in a best-of-five NL Division Series.

“We started off horrible, as we all know, and we vowed that we wouldn’t quit,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters, referring to the whole season, but it could have described Tuesday night as well. “I told the boys, ‘I promise you, stay with it, don’t quit, this will turn around.’ And it did. And here we are today.”

A motto all season for the Nationals has been “Stay in the Fight.” And no one has embodied that better than relief pitcher Aaron Barrett.

Barrett made his big-league debut for the Nationals in 2014, but underwent Tommy John surgery in September 2015. While still rehabbing in 2016, Barrett suffered a gruesome fracture to his right pitching arm that required two plates and 16 screws to put back together. He missed all of 2016 and 2017 as his arm slowly healed.

Despite it all, the Nationals organization gave Barrett another opportunity in 2018, he worked his way back up through the minors, the Nationals took notice, and early in September, Barrett got the call he had sought for four years. He officially returned to the majors Sept. 7.

Barrett, 31, remained with the Nationals through September, making three appearances, the last of which came Sunday in Game 162. He allowed five hits and four runs over his three games (2.1 innings), and thus wasn’t included on the Nationals’ postseason roster. However, the team made sure to honor him before the wild-card game, asking him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch:

On Saturday, Barrett also participated in the Nationals’ Faith Day and shared some of his faith journey through the injuries.

“I was in a very dark place for a long time, as some of you guys might be able to relate,” he told the audience. “I thought I could do everything on my own; I thought I could do my rehab on my own. I said I don’t want anything to do with God. He broke my arm.”

Ultimately, with the help of his family, Barrett let go and realized he couldn’t do things by himself.

“We started getting into the Word, started reading a daily devotional every single day — and He started speaking to me. His words literally started speaking to me, and that’s when things started to change … I never thought that I would throw a baseball again. This was more just being a normal human being again,” Barrett said.

Barrett mentioned that teammate Jonny Venters was an inspiration during his comeback journey. Also a relief pitcher, Venters underwent what he describes as “3 1/2” Tommy John surgeries, and he was out of the big leagues from 2012 until 2018. In Venters, Barrett saw what God could do.

“I started believing each and every day that God had a plan for me — no matter if I threw in the big leagues, if I threw a pitch again, it didn’t matter,” Barrett said. “I started believing that God had a plan for me and I started trusting in that plan. I started taking it one day at a time, literally one day at a time.

“So I encourage each and every one of you out there, if you’re struggling with something, open up that Book and start getting into the Word. It’s amazing how much He can talk to you.”

Barrett will be cheering on his Nationals teammates as they take on the Dodgers in Game 1 on Thursday in Los Angeles.

RELATED STORIES:
Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett credits ‘faith in the Lord’ after 4-year battle to get back to big leagues
Washington Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier plays for Christ in third straight postseason
Washington Nationals’ Anthony Rendon playing for the Lord, quietly having MVP-caliber season