Mission to the Major Leagues

Outfielder Sean Barksdale spent the summer with the Houston Astros’ Class-A Tri-City affiliate.

Outfielder Sean Barksdale spent the summer with the Houston Astros’ Class-A Tri-City affiliate.

For three days, from June 9 to June 11, outfielder Sean Barksdale sat in front of the computer, nervously waiting to see his name appear on the screen.

Finally, Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros selected him with the 1,151st pick in the 38th round of the draft.

He became the 24th player from Temple chosen in the MLB draft.

As an Owl, outfielder Sean Barksdale broke the 31-year RBI record and finished third all-time in home runs with 27.

“I was biting my nails hoping someone would take me until I got picked,” Barksdale said. “The Astros called me right after I saw my name. It was exciting. I didn’t care about the round. I didn’t care what round I was chosen in or with what pick. I didn’t care about the team. As a senior, you have no leverage. I just wanted to play. I knew I was signing right away.”

Barksdale signed a contract with the Astros on Sunday, June 14 and reported to the Tri-City ValleyCats of the Class-A short-season New York-Penn League that Wednesday, June 17.

From June 17 until he had season-ending surgery Sept. 1 for a torn meniscus in his knee, Barksdale batted .175 with 18 hits, two home runs, eight RBI and two stolen bases in 37 games.

During every home game, Barksdale would arrive at Joe Bruno Stadium in Troy, N.Y., which is near Albany, N.Y., around 1 p.m. for a 7 p.m. start. He worked out and lifted weights before outfield practice around 2:30 p.m. After that came stretching and batting practice until about 5 p.m. The ValleyCats players would then return to the clubhouse for a pregame meal that usually consisted of pasta, macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sometimes, players would grab Wendy’s or hoagies from a nearby deli.

“It’s like extended college,” Barksdale said, “and not just because of the food. You’re living on your own. You’re traveling for games, though the bus rides aren’t too bad for the New York-Penn League because the longest trips are from New York to Maryland or Massachusetts. You’re living in an apartment with two or three other guys.

“The game’s just faster, and everyone here is as good as you or better,” he added. “It’s about development, not necessarily about the numbers.”

It’s not that Barksdale didn’t want to hit .300, but with his playing time, he didn’t necessarily get the chance to get into a hitting groove to do so.

“You play one day and feel good getting a hit or two, but then you might be off for four days,” he said. “It’s a mental game that you have to beat. There are plenty of players who are physically tough enough, but handling the mental part of the game is why Big Leaguers are so good. Sure, my season didn’t go so well, but I can’t sit back and wish I had hit .300. You have good days and bad days. It was weird being the guy in college who people relied on, and now, I have to handle not being that person.”

For Temple baseball coach Rob Valli, those attributes, those intangibles as he called them, are the reasons why he said he thinks Barksdale will one day work his way up to the Major Leagues.

“It’s easier to get drafted than it is to get to the Big Leagues,” Valli said. “The toughest thing is the fact that for the first time in your career, you don’t get to play every day. The teams rotate their lineups and play different people in different games because they’re not necessarily concerned with winning games. They’re trying to develop young players.

“But Sean has the mental toughness to handle his injury and the grind of a Minor League season,” he added, “and he can put together some big numbers.”

In his three seasons at Temple (Barksdale transferred in from Gloucester County Community College in New Jersey), he finished third all-time in career homers with 27, fifth with 222 hits and seventh in stolen bases with 53.

In 2009, his final season with the Owls, Barksdale, the Big 5 Player of the Year and a first-team All-Atlantic Ten Conference selection, hit .371 with 15 home runs, 56 RBI and 53 runs scored.

On May 8 against Saint Louis, Barksdale broke the 31-year-old RBI record. His 162 career RBI now top the list.

Temple wasn’t even Barksdale’s first choice for college.

In his senior of high school at Cardinal O’Hara High in Springfield, Pa., Barksdale signed with West Chester University – to play football.

He started on the O’Hara varsity baseball team as a sophomore, but it wasn’t until his senior year that coach John Grossi said his game finally blossomed.

“He was always a football player who played baseball because it was something else to do,” Grossi said. “The coaches talked to him about what was different that last year, and he said that everything we taught him suddenly clicked. I think he had a good year, and suddenly, baseball became fun for him. Football is a lot of action. You don’t find as many kids playing baseball because a lot of the game is in your head.

“I think he saw his potential,” Grossi added. “But even then, I don’t know if I really thought he would get drafted.”

Barksdale played in the Carpenter Cup Classic, a tournament organized by the Philadelphia Phillies that showcases area high school baseball players, his senior year. Valli saw him play and caught up with him afterward, telling Barksdale that he believed he had a chance to play professional baseball.

“At first, I thought, ‘Yeah, right. I have no shot,’” Barksdale said. “But then in the middle of the summer, I switched over. I had thoughts that maybe I could play, that maybe I could do this.”

By that time, college baseball recruiting was over, so Barksdale followed Valli first to Gloucester and then to Temple.

Now, Barksdale will spend the next six months preparing for Spring Training in Kissimmee, Fla., with the Astros.

He met general manager Ed Wade and retired catcher/second baseman Craig Biggio there during a predraft workout but hopes to hold in-depth conversations with them in March, when he will learn whether he will spend another season with the ValleyCats or advance a level.

In the meantime, Barksdale starts rehabilitation on his knee next week. He’ll spend three to four weeks on crutches. The total recovery time is estimated at four to six weeks.

“It’s a little sore right now, but I’m recovering,” Barksdale said. “I still don’t really know how I injured it. I was just warming up before a game, and it locked on me. But the doctors said there’s no way I tore it that day, that it had to have torn before then. Once I’ve recovered, I’ll go work out and go hit with the guys at Temple.”

Barksdale, who started out as a kinesiology major but switched to history, needs about a semester’s worth of classes to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

“Right now, I’m going to try to graduate, but hopefully, I won’t need my degree any time soon,” he said. “I’m going to seriously pursue baseball first for as long as I can.”

Jennifer Reardon can be reached at jennifer.reardon@temple.edu.

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