Old rookies Bush, Barnette took unique paths to AL playoffs
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Matt Bush and Tony Barnette took drastically different and quite unconventional paths to becoming 30-something rookie relievers and locker mates with the AL West champion Texas Rangers.
When the Rangers were in the playoffs last October, former No. 1 overall pick Bush was in the final month of a 3 +-year stint in prison for a drunken driving accident that nearly killed a man.
The 32-year-old Barnette was finishing a record-setting season as a closer who helped the Tokyo Yakult Swallows reach the Japan Series.
''It's almost like fate,'' the 30-year-old Bush said. ''Here we both are, finally getting our chance, being around the same age, and get to share our experiences and our rookie years together.''
The right-handers are key setup men for the Rangers, who play the AL Division Series opener at home Thursday against the winner of the American League wild-card game (Baltimore or Toronto).
Bush, now a reliever whose fastball touches 100 mph, was initially drafted in 2004 out of high school by his hometown San Diego Padres as a shortstop - just ahead of 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, also a six-time All-Star.
Within weeks after receiving a $3.15 million signing bonus and before even playing his first pro game, Bush was suspended by the organization following his arrest in a bar fight. That was only the first of several alcohol-related incidents before the nearly fatal accident while in spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays in March 2012.
Sober since that time, the final nine months of Bush's prison sentence in Florida last year included living in a halfway house while in a work-release program with a job as a baker at a Golden Corral in Florida.
It was in the parking lot of that restaurant that Rangers officials watched Bush throw in the mid-90s. After his release Oct. 30, Bush went to Texas with his father to work out for the team for which Josh Hamilton, another former No. 1 overall pick, went from alcohol and drug issues to being a five-time All-Star and the 2010 AL MVP.
''Everybody in every clubhouse for the most part has a story. Some stand out a little bit more than others, like Matt's. He's handled it tremendously. He shows up, works hard and throws 100 mph. It's fun to watch,'' Barnette said. ''Isn't baseball great? It gives guys like us chances.''
Barnette was a 10th-round draft pick by the Diamondbacks in 2006 from Arizona State, then started 96 games in four minor league seasons before going to Japan in 2010, a year before making the transition from starter to reliever. The Alaskan-born pitcher set a team record with 41 saves and a 1.29 ERA in 59 games for the Swallows last season before signing a two-year contract with Texas.
Jonathan Lucroy, the catcher Texas acquired Aug. 1, said Bush and Barnette don't seem like MLB rookies, both having matured and learned from unique situations.
While Barnette has spent the entire season with the Rangers, Bush went from spring training to Double-A Frisco after not playing any regular-season games since 2011.
''I really wouldn't have thought it'd work out the way it is, especially with such a good team, a winning team, going to the playoffs now and being the setup guy. It's a dream come true really,'' Bush said. ''My true hopes were to finish the year without getting into any trouble, to stay sober, and to go into next year with a chance of getting placed on the 40-man roster.''
But things happened much faster than that, getting called up by the Rangers in mid-May after 12 relief appearances at Double-A, and converting all five save chances at the highest level he had pitched to that point. He has made 58 appearances for Texas (7-2, 2.48 ERA), and hasn't allowed a run in his last 10 appearances (11 1-3 innings).
''It's been fun, it's been everything that I ever thought of, and being 30, I've been able to handle myself, being more mature,'' Bush said. ''I definitely wasn't ready back then when I was a lot younger.''
Barnette (7-3, 2.09), who missed three weeks in September with a tight left oblique muscle, has recorded more than three outs in 19 of his last 27 appearances since mid-June, with a 0.79 ERA in that span.
''We know our roles and we know what's expected of us, and I think it helps being older, and the fact that we're comfortable with who we are now,'' Barnette said. ''And we're not worried about stepping on anybody's toes around us, because we're older than everybody.''
On a team with 28-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus being the longest-tenured position player in his eighth season, Bush and Barentte are certainly the old rookies.