MLB.com Columnist

Lindsay Berra

Family ties help set Barnes on baseball path

Uncle played in the big leagues for the A's, Cards and Yanks

Family ties help set Barnes on baseball path

LOS ANGELES -- On Sept. 25, the night the Dodgers won their 100th game of the regular season, reserve catcher Austin Barnes proved why he's great to have around. The 27-year-old started at second base and hit a three-run home run in the fifth inning of a 9-3 win over the Padres.

As the Dodgers prepare to begin the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile on Friday against the D-backs, Barnes' versatility and new-found power will no doubt prove useful.

Game Date Results Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 6 LAD 9, ARI 5 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 7 LAD 8, ARI 5 Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 9 LAD 3, ARI 1 Watch

Dodgers' everyday catcher Yasmani Grandal struggled in September with a .159 average, while Barnes, who grew up in Riverside, Calif., just 60 miles west of Dodger Stadium, took off. He posted a .289/.408/.486 slash line for the season, and hit some timely home runs while seeing time in 55 games behind the plate and 21 at second base.

If you're wondering where the kid gets his grit, look no further than his family tree. Joc Pederson and Cody Bellinger aren't the only Dodgers with big league bloodlines. Barnes' uncle is 13-year big league veteran and 1989 World Series champ Mike Gallego, an infielder for the A's, Yankees and Cardinals.

Like Gallego, who was 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Barnes has long been known for his work ethic and a toughness that belies his size. But Gallego says Barnes inherited those traits from his mother Stephanie, Gallego's little sister, who grew up with five brothers and always wanted to get into the game.

"My whole family was very competitive," Gallego says. "Very loving, but fearless when it came to between the lines."

Barnes is 364 days younger than his cousin Niko, Gallego's son, who played baseball at UCLA and is currently a Bruins assistant coach.

"They were always out playing catch or pickle or pepper," Gallego said. "They knew they loved baseball and that was their main objective; to play baseball."

Barnes fondly recalls visiting Gallego's house, going through his chest of baseball gloves and leaving with a Mizuno or a Rawlings glove.

"Those were the best days, when he would give me and my brothers a couple of gloves," Barnes says. "I remember how much he cared about his gloves. He taught me how to break them in. He would put them under his mattress."

As Barnes grew up and his baseball career carried on, Gallego, who went on to coach with the A's, continued giving gifts of equipment.

"When I was in the Minor Leagues, he'd send me bats from guys on the A's, like Kurt Suzuki," Barnes says. "So I'd be hitting with these nice bats and I was super jacked about it."

But the tangible gifts Gallego gave to Barnes were far less important than the intangible ones.

While Barnes was very young for most Gallego's playing career -- he was born two months after Gallego's A's swept the Giants in the 1989 World Series -- he does remember watching his uncle play with the Cardinals.

"Uncle Mike made the big leagues an obtainable goal," Barnes says. "You see your uncle can do it and it puts it in your mind that it's possible. His attitude and the way he carried himself transferred over and showed me this is something you could do if you just work hard."

Barnes' three-run homer

Like his uncle, Barnes grew up as an infielder who took tremendous pride in his defense. He went to Arizona State, in no small part because of Gallego's longtime friend, and former big leaguer, Andy Stankiewicz, was an assistant coach there.

"I started looking at Austin when he was at Riverside Poly High School and I got very excited when I realized he was Mike's nephew," Stankiewicz said. "They are both undersized guys who grinded their way through the game and refused to say no. They work their tails off. You put something in front of them and they find a way to go through it or around it."

For Barnes at ASU, that something was a catcher's mitt. Late in his freshman year, Barnes was asked to switch from the infield to behind the plate in order to make the travel squad. Barnes realized he could do well behind the plate because of his arm strength, soft hands and heady approach to the game. He tackled the switch with his customary determination.

According to Barnes, some things came easily, while others did not.

"The biggest thing is learning to block, getting away from picking when you can, trusting your reactions," Barnes says. "Everything else translates pretty easily. Catching the ball, receiving the ball, trusting my hands, throwing."

In the big leagues, those infielders' hands have served him well. He's regarded by Dodgers pitchers as a first-rate pitch framer. Manager Dave Roberts knows he can use Barnes behind the plate in big spots and he knows he can move him around the field.

"Managers love the idea and the ability to have players who are role players or backup catchers that have the ability to play second base or shortstop if they have to," Gallego says. "That's a big advantage for Austin, his mindset every day. He's a smart kid. He's a good student of the game. He's fearless. He's confident in his ability. Those aspects of his personality are definitely an advantage and a plus to help him compete in the big leagues."

Lindsay Berra is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.