2/18/2013 6:10 P.M. ET
Changes abound but don't dampen Barajas' nostalgia
By Steve Gilbert / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When he first walked into the D-backs clubhouse this spring, Rod Barajas did a double take.
Barajas had played with the D-backs during the franchise's early days, from 1999-2003. He was on teams with Mark Grace, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, David Dellucci and Luis Gonzalez. Now, he recognizes only longtime staff members, like equipment manager Roger Riley.
"It's different," Barajas said. "You come in, and you're expecting to see all the people you remembered. You walk in the Diamondbacks clubhouse, and you're expecting to see Dellucci, Gonzo and all those guys. But they're not here. There are some familiar faces, but the last time I left the home clubhouse those were the faces. Now I walk in, and the teammates are different, the uniforms are different. So even though it's the same organization, it does feel a little different this time around."
There have indeed been plenty of changes since 2003. The D-backs now wear red rather than purple, they train at Salt River Fields rather than Tucson, Ariz., and heck, even the name of their home stadium has changed, from Bank One Ballpark to Chase Field.
One of the familiar faces for Barajas is bullpen coach Glenn Sherlock, who has been with the organization since its inception. Sherlock works with the catchers and first worked with Barajas when the D-backs signed Barajas out of a tryout camp in 1996.
"He always had great hands," Sherlock said. "That's something I remember about him, that as a young player he had the ability to really catch the ball; he caught every pitch very easily and very softly, and he still does. He's a great athlete in a small area behind home plate; he can really move his feet. It's been great having Rod back in camp. Doing the drills, we've had some laughs talking about some old stories and some things that have happened. He's a championship player."
Barajas was signed the weekend before camp opened this year to battle for the backup catching position with Wil Nieves.
If he makes the team, Barajas will no doubt remember a different era when he re-enters the home clubhouse at Chase Field.
"I grew up in this organization; I started with this organization," Barajas said. "They started when I started, and I was one of the guys who was here from the very, very beginning. This place has always been special. Almost all my firsts were here. First hit, first playoffs, everything. There's tons of memories, and I'm sure when I go to Chase Field walking in the clubhouse I'll remember where Gracie used to sit and where Randy and Curt used to sit. It'll be neat. It'll be fun to just walk around the clubhouse and remember some of the times I had."
Nostalgia is nice, but Barajas did not sign with the D-backs to take a leisurely stroll down memory lane.
Primarily a backup in his first few years in the big leagues, Barajas would go on to be mainly a starter on six different teams, most recently last year when he caught 104 games for the Pirates.
The Pirates elected not to bring Barajas back, and he realized that his days as a starter were most likely at an end. The D-backs approached him in December about a backup job, but playing behind iron man Miguel Montero would not lend itself to many at-bats.
Barajas searched for more playing time before agreeing to a non-roster deal with the D-backs.
"It's not hard, not for me," Barajas said of accepting a backup role. "As one of those guys who was never a superstar who did incredible things, I never had a big ego. I knew this day would come. As a catcher you have your years of starting, and if you love the game and want to stick around, why not be a backup toward the end? I got to start for quite a while, and I loved starting and playing every day, but I'm OK with it. I just feel like I can contribute in so many other ways on a daily basis. It doesn't have to be performing on the field. It can be talking to some of the younger guys, talking to the younger pitchers."
Given the fact that he is not hampered by any chronic injuries, Barajas, 37, thinks he could play another three or four years, especially if he has has to catch just once or twice a week.
"I love playing this game," Barajas said. "I love being in a clubhouse, I love being around the guys, so as long as I'm able to physically able to compete, then I'm going to want to stick around."
An added bonus would be if he could somehow finish his career with the D-backs.
"I've got nothing but great memories of being here," he said. "If I'm going to finish somewhere, I'd love to finish where I started. Hopefully things work out and I get the chance to do that."