Cubs turn cartwheels over budding infielder

Ex-Southridge star earns roster spot with solid spring

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — The table was set for some heroics Monday, and Darwin Barney was the man at the plate. The Chicago Cubs trailed Cleveland 4-3, with a runner at third base and two out in the top of the ninth inning. Up stepped Barney against the Indians’ Chris Perez, with a chance to drive in the tying run. After getting a 3-2 count, Barney walked. After loading the bases, the Cubs lost. Barney would loved to have gotten one down the middle with a full count, but it’s not about him. Never has been. “I’ll take a walk any day,” the former Southridge High and Oregon State standout said. “That’s part of my job.” The best thing is, Barney’s job will be as a middle infielder for the Cubs when they open the season Friday at home against Pittsburgh. Manager Mike Quade announced this week that Barney, who played 30 games after a late call-up by the Cubs last season, will be on the opening 25-man roster — and more. “Darwin has played himself into significant playing time,” Quade told the media. “He does a lot of things out of the batter’s box you really like. He’s given himself every chance to be an important part of this infield.” Through Tuesday, the 25-year-old Barney was hitting .340 and playing errorless ball in 21 spring games. “Barney has been the most impressive player in camp,” writes the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Sun-Times calls Barney “the top upset on the Cubs this spring.” “The rookie was no better than a 3 or 4 seed at second base/backup infield when camp opened —uncertain of even still being on the big-league field at this point,” according to the newspaper. “Now he is a legitimate threat to be the opening-day second baseman.” With prodigy Starlin Castro, 21, entrenched at shortstop, Barney’s best chance to start is at second, where his competitors are Jeff Baker (hitting .360 this spring) and Blake DeWitt (.196). Baker has overcome a hamstring injury, and he and Barney could split time early in the season. “Nothing’s guaranteed,” Barney says. “I’m focused on helping the team win however I can. Whenever my name is called, I’m going to go out there and play hard. “If I can play second base, I’ll be very happy to do it. If I’m the backup for Starlin, I’m happy to do that, too. It’s an honor to be part of the Cubs organization and part of this team, and it’s pretty amazing breaking into the big leagues.” Since his days with Murrayhill Little League, Barney has always covered the bases, so to speak. He spent the offseason in Arizona, working with strength/ conditioning coach Tim Buss and fellow Cubs Tyler Colvin, Ryan Dempster and Jeff Samardzija, among others. The 5-10 Barney gained 18 pounds — he has lost 10 of them through the rigors of spring, leaving him at 180. “That’s where I want to sit,” he says. “Getting stronger has paid some dividends.” Barney also worked on the mental game. “I wanted to develop a plan at the plate,” he says. “What am I good at? What am I bad at?” Barney is good at making contact — he has three strikeouts in 50 at-bats — and at swinging at good pitches. “I really believe I can still get better and better,” he says. “That’s the goal.” As a small fry since his toddler years, Barney has made a career out of proving doubters wrong. Self-confidence has never been a problem, even as he battled for a roster spot this spring. “You don’t doubt yourself, but there were guys I was competing with,” he says. “I wanted to put up good at-bats and to play good defense, and I’ve done that. I’m trying to do what I can to show these guys that I belong here.” Barney already seems very much one of the guys. Before Sunday’s workout, he put on a show for his teammates, turning a cartwheel and doing a backward flip in the air at the request of pitcher Matt Garza. “Vintage Ozzie Smith,” the Chicago Tribune called it, referring to the Hall of Fame shortstop who performed backflips before games. On Saturday, a few of the Cubs had been discussing Smith’s stunts. “I was like, ‘I can do back-flips,’ ” Barney says. As a grade-schooler growing up in Beaverton, Barney had taken three years of gymnastics lessons. “I got pretty good at it,” he says, “but with baseball and other things, I didn’t have time for it.” His teammates asked him to show his talents, but the field was wet from rain, “and I didn’t want to slip,” he says. Sunday was dry, so he did a cartwheel. “Only a few guys saw it, so the rest of the guys made me do another one,” he says. “They were pretty amazed by it.” Now pitcher Carlos Zambrano is requesting that Barney make a repeat performance on opening day at Wrigley Field. “There’s no way that’s going to happen,” Barney says, wisely. “What, do (a flip), then go out there and go 0 for 4 with an error? In time, maybe, if I establish myself in the big leagues. If the guys make me do it then, I’d have no choice.” For now, Barney will head for Chicago with wife Lindsay and 2-year-old daughter Hayden (a second child is due in September), to set up home for the next six months and prepare for his first full season in the majors. As Barney says, nothing is guaranteed as far as playing time. “We’ll see what happens in April,” Quade says. “That’s what really matters.” Sounds fair to Barney.