Barden bides his time in Tucson

Ex-OSU slugger excels with Sidewinders while waiting for majors to call

If former Oregon State baseball player Brian Barden has to stay in Triple-A, at least he gets to play for one of the Pacific Coast League's best teams.

Barden's team, Tucson, has played .750 ball since the middle of May. The Sidewinders sport one of the PCL's best records despite playing mostly younger players such as prospects Micah Owings and Stephen Drew.

'It's pretty rare to have this many guys who have a future in the big leagues - it's fun,' says Barden, a third baseman who held the OSU record for career hits before Jacoby Ellsbury passed him last season. 'We have good, smart players, and none of us are selfish. It's fun to go out and have a good chance of winning.'

It isn't like Barden is the old man on the bench. He's 25, and still only four years removed from Corvallis. But he's kind of stuck at Triple-A - not on the parent Arizona Diamondbacks' 40-man roster -and plenty aware that the D-Backs just signed third baseman Chad Tracy to a six-year contract.

Barden was batting .286 with nine homers and 46 RBIs as of Monday, after finishing at .307 last year and .283 in 2004 at Tucson. He played at Class AA El Paso in 2003, batting .287, and 2004, batting .303. In other words, the guy can hit.

But he won't make the major leagues until the Diamondbacks either trade him, put him on the 40-man and promote him, or give him the coveted September call-up.

'I got here fast,' he laments, 'and it's catching up to me now. They ultimately decide when I'm ready. It's hard to get up there.

'Since I've been here in Triple-A, they don't move too many guys. (The D-Backs) want guys to mature and be ready when they get up there.'

Arizona, he says, called up outfielder Scott Hairston recently, but mostly pitchers have received the big-league opportunities.

Barden could test free agency in 2008. He has developed into an all-around good Triple-A player, after struggling with trying to introduce the power stroke into his game. 'At the corner positions (first and third base) they want guys who hit home runs,' he says. 'I started worrying about that too much. I cut down on strikeouts, got more walks. I just try to put the ball in play and play defense.'

Coincidentally, the Sidewinders were in Portland last Monday - the same day Barden's alma mater played in the College World Series championship game, and won. He caught some of the action between innings of that night's Tucson-Portland Beaver game, and then attended the rally for the OSU team on Tuesday at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

'I couldn't be prouder,' he says.

Interestingly, Barden was part of OSU coach Pat Casey's push to get more Arizona and California players on the team, and now the Beavers have won the national championship with almost all Northwest kids.

Barden, who is from Templeton, Calif., says the Beavers of his day got close to thinking about making a regional but could never get over the hump. In his three years, OSU went 28-27, 31-24 and 31-23 with losing Pac-10 records.

As many as eight of this year's OSU players could sign pro contracts this summer. Barden's advice to them?

'In this first half-season, go out and don't try to do too much,' says Barden, who hit .335 with a 16-game hitting streak at Class A Lancaster (Calif.) in 2002, after the Diamondbacks drafted him in the sixth round. 'Be yourself and play hard and use the coaching - it's professional help, and they know what they're doing. Just go out and have fun; don't burn yourself out in the first half-season.'

As far as hitting with a wooden bat, 'if you're a good hitter, you can hit with anything,' he says. 'Pitching is a lot better (in the pros), they have more command of their stuff. But at the lower levels, there are flame-throwers who don't throw a lot of strikes. They need to be patient early on, aggressive, and just have an approach at the plate. Be smart.'

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