Commentary

Tough loss prepares Barrett for success

Updated: June 3, 2009, 12:13 PM ET
By Ryan Canner-O'Mealy | ESPN RISE Magazine

Little more than an hour after Desert Ridge (Mesa, Ariz.) lost its first-round playoff game last year, shortstop Jerry Klemen drove by the baseball field and noticed someone running like a madman in the outfield. Klemen pulled up for a closer look, assuming one of his teammates had gotten in trouble and was being punished.

Instead, Klemen found best friend Jake Barrett alone on the field doing "poles" -- running foul pole to foul pole along the warning track and sprinting the last 90 feet at full speed. Barrett was the starting pitcher that day in a 5-1 loss to Marana Mountain View, and he was taking the defeat so hard he needed to blow off steam. He normally runs eight poles after a start. On this day, he stopped counting at 21.

"I knew going into the tournament we had a really good chance at winning it," Barrett says. "Once we lost that first game, it would be a lot harder and I blamed it on myself."

Since it was only the first loss in a double-elimination tourney, the Jaguars were still alive. But Barrett couldn't stomach the thought of letting his team down at a crucial moment.

"It shows how much he cares and how much he wants to win," says Klemen, who will play at Indiana next year.

Eventually, Barrett stopped running and met up with his friend. They talked about the game, and Klemen was finally able to convince his teammate the loss wasn't on him.

"I had to tell him he threw a good game and we didn't help him out," Klemen says.

The way Barrett handled that loss defines the 6-foot-3, 230-pound righty as much as his low-90s fastball or nasty slider. He didn't blame the umpires or his team's lack of offense. He put it all on his shoulders and promised it wouldn't happen again. Barrett went on to win two more games as the Jaguars won four in a row to advance from the consolation bracket to the state semifinals. Still, that initial loss remains with the team. The game story from the next day's newspaper has been clipped and posted in Desert Ridge's dugout to serve as a reminder.

Not that Barrett needs any help remembering. He may have finished last year 10-2 with a 2.50 ERA and 90 K's in 78 innings while hitting .436 with seven homers and 53 RBIs. And he may have been one of only two juniors to make the Arizona Republic's Class 5A All-State team. But for Barrett, now a senior who has signed with Arizona State and could be an early-round pick in June's MLB Draft, the defeat still stings. Maybe Barrett reacted the way he did following the Mountain View loss because he'd had so little experience dealing with failure on the big stage.


Jake Barrett Favorites

  • TV Show: "SportsCenter"
  • Movie: "300"
  • Actor: Will Ferrell
  • Musical Artist: Lil Wayne

As a freshman, he showed enough talent to make varsity and convince Desert Ridge coach Pat Herrera he was a future star. But it wasn't until the state playoffs that the coach realized just how good Barrett could be. In a loser-goes-home consolation bracket battle, the seventh-seeded Jaguars took on No. 3 Sunnyside. Desert Ridge ended up losing, 5-4, in eight innings, but Barrett threw several frames of scoreless relief to keep his team alive.

[+] EnlargeESPN RISE Magazine
ESPN RISE MagazineJake Barrett is committed to play at the University of Indiana next season.

"At that moment, we knew he had the talent and the heart," Herrera says.

If there were any doubts, Barrett erased them with a standout sophomore campaign. After being eased into the rotation as a freshman, he was the undisputed ace his second year. Barrett lived up to the billing by going 7-5 with a 2.71 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 69 innings. He was just as dangerous at the plate, belting seven home runs to go along with 51 RBIs and a .413 batting average. By the spring of 2008, Barrett was considered one of the top juniors in Arizona -- and with one brilliant performance, he cemented his status as the top junior.

Desert Ridge was facing Highland and its lefty ace, James Pazos. Barrett was on the mound for the Jaguars, but Pazos -- who like Barrett was a junior at the time -- was the one the college coaches had come to see. When it was over, though, all they could talk about was Barrett. The power-hitting, hard-throwing Desert Ridge star showed all his skills that day, cracking two home runs and pitching a complete game as the Jaguars triumphed, 6-3.

"That's how he got on the radar," Herrera says. "We knew how good he was by then, but that performance showed everyone else."

After he finished his stellar junior campaign, Barrett went national, making the USA Baseball 18U team that won the silver medal at last summer's World Junior Championships in Canada. Once again, he thrived when the lights were brightest. He appeared in three games, earning a win and two saves in 6.2 scoreless innings. As the team's closer, Barrett was thrust into several high-pressure situations. In a round-robin game against eventual champion Korea, he threw three innings of relief to preserve a 4-3 win. Then in the semifinals against Australia, Barrett struck out four in two innings to help the U.S. earn a 3-1 victory.

Closing out games was nothing new for Barrett -- though he usually starts them, too. An old-school hurler, he doesn't worry about pitch counts and never wants to leave a game.

"Coach'll ask how I feel, and I'll tell him I feel great even if I have a little bit of soreness," Barrett says. "I want to finish the game."

Sometimes even that's not enough. If the result isn't to his liking, Barrett's work is just beginning.

Ryan Canner-O'Mealy covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.

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