Danny Barnes got to live the dream on Monday.
He was born into a family of Yankees fans and grew up in Manhasset. He started falling in love with the sport just as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera were earning their first World Series rings. The idea of playing at Yankee Stadium was the be-all and end-all.
And finally, there he was on the mound. He wasn’t wearing the pinstripes, as he’d imagined when he was young. He was pitching for the Blue Jays against his childhood favorites. But he was as good as he’d hoped, throwing two scoreless innings of relief in Toronto’s 7-1 win.
“I definitely had goose bumps and was nervous,” said Barnes, who had 15 friends and family on hand. “It was pretty cool, a little surreal. Still, it’s Yankee Stadium. That’s something you never forget.”
Barnes isn’t the Jays’ only righthander from Long Island. Starting pitcher Marcus Stroman is from Medford.
“It’s a little weird that two of us are from Long Island. What’s weirder is that we’re pretty close to the same age but never played against each other,” Barnes said. “We have talked about growing up on Long Island, where we played ball with our travel teams, what our high schools were like, but we never crossed paths.”
The Blue Jays chose Barnes out of Princeton in the 35th round of the 2010 draft, and for three seasons, he performed well and steadily climbed through the organization. “I kept feeling like if I go up one level a year, I’ll be there in no time,” Barnes said, “because I didn’t struggle much.”
But a shoulder injury halted the righthander’s climb in 2013. He needed surgery on a partially torn rotator cuff and missed almost all of that season. “At that point I was like, ‘My career might be over.’ I went very fast from thinking ‘I might be there next year’ to ‘I might be done playing,’ ” Barnes said.
It took almost the entire 2014 season pitching in Class A ball to get untracked and back into form.
“It was really a two-year process to get back to where I was, but you learn a lot going through that,” he said. “You were always working hard, but you can learn to do things a better way. It was important to go through that.”
Barnes was able to resume his climb. In 2015, he pitched 60 2⁄3 innings to a 2.97 ERA for Double-A New Hampshire. Last season, he pitched 61 1⁄3 innings for New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo to a 0.77 ERA, earning a September call-up.
He’s on his second stint of this season with the Blue Jays and has thrown 6 2⁄3 innings of scoreless relief in five appearances. Manager John Gibbons called the 27-year-old “a solid option I could see really contributing for us” this season.
“I’m still far from being a solidified major-leaguer, but I feel more comfortable now,” Barnes said. “Last year when I got up to the big leagues, I’d look at the fields and think, ‘Is this the same thing I’ve been doing?’ because everything looked so alien. The whole atmosphere is different.
“This year I look around and I know it’s the same field. I see the Yankees and I know them from playing them at different levels. They’re here. I’m here. I’m going to keep trying to prove myself every day so I can stay here.”
Long Islanders in the majors:
Danny Barnes, RHP, Blue Jays (Manhasset)
Steven Matz, LHP, Mets
Marcus Stroman, RHP, Blue Jays (Medford)