Former big leaguer looks for way back

Photo by Corey Stolzenbach | The Herald
Former major league pitcher Johnny Barbato departs the mound in smiles Friday at Huntingburg's League Stadium. Barbato notched three strikeouts in two innings of scoreless relief for the Indiana Barn Owls, who lost to the California Dogecoin, 3-0, in Liberation Professional Baseball League play.


HUNTINGBURG — Many baseball players aspire to make it to the big leagues, but not everybody breaks through.

Johnny Barbato knows how it feels to have pitched in the majors, having done so for three major league teams. However, his last appearance came with the Detroit Tigers on June 22, 2018, and Barbato wasn't at a big league ballpark Friday evening. Nor he was in Japan, after he pitched for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2019.

Rather, he was at Huntingburg's League Stadium in uniform in the Indiana Barn Owls' 3-0 loss against the California Dogecoin to open the inaugural season of the Liberation Professional Baseball League. Barbato is trying to get back to where he once was.

He took the mound in the bottom of the fifth inning, and worked two scoreless frames. Barbato racked up three strikeouts, and got himself out of some tight spots in the bottom of the sixth.

The Dogecoin had runners on first and second base with nobody out. He battled back to get a strikeout after being down in a 3-0 count, and collected his final strikeout that left runners on second and third. That concluded his night, as he was given the option, but declined to go back out for a third inning.

League Stadium may not have the same atmosphere as a ballpark home to a Major League Baseball team, but Barbato can't complain about where he's at.

"I love it out here, honestly," Barbato said. "I have family that grew up in East Tennessee, kind of the same kind of area and stuff like that. I'm with a host family right now (Jim and Cheryl Ranger of Dale) and they live on a farm, and it's been great so far."

Barbato spoke to some MLB clubs during the winter, but those talks fell through. The last time he competitively pitched prior to Friday was last year in Japan, but he's kept busy. The Las Vegas resident has stayed busy this time by getting in bullpen sessions with friends. Barbato partook in a bullpen a couple of weeks ago in Nashville, with his velocity clocking in around 93-94 miles per hour.

He has a connection with Ray Ortega, who coached for the Barn Owls on Friday. Both of them grew up in Miami, and they knew each other beforehand.

"(Ortega) shot me a text one day, asking if I want to get some innings, and throw a little bit, and I said, 'Yeah, sure, of course," he said.

Barbato knows that not everybody has been able to play baseball this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it was "awesome" getting to be out there again. He wouldn't be the first person to make it back to the majors after a period of time.

Daniel Bard got the win in relief while pitching for the Colorado Rockies on July 25 against the Texas Rangers. It was the first time Bard had appeared in a major league game since April 27, 2013 with the Boston Red Sox. Hearing something like that gives Barbato the motivation to keep pushing and working his hardest to get back to the majors.

He remains friends with some current MLB players, and has also kept in contact with some coaches; and Barbato knows what it would mean to him to get back there someday.

"Everything," Barbato said. "That's the ultimate goal is to be in the big leagues. It doesn't matter if it happens by accident or from by circumstance, if something happens, it doesn't matter. You're in the big leagues, and I think that's everybody's dream, everybody's goal. It would be awesome."

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