Barmes happy to reunite with Hurdle

Barmes happy to reunite with Hurdle

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For Clint Barmes, the move to the Pittsburgh Pirates is a triple strike of good fortune. He picked up 16 games in the standings when he departed Houston as a free agent and signed with the Bucs. He also has an opportunity to fast forward his career, and to be a part of a franchise renaissance. So mark him down for the turkey.

"I talked with Clint [Hurdle] a lot when the process began," said Barmes, referring to his first experience with free agency. "Hearing him talk about how I would fit in here was very positive. I couldn't be happier to be a part of what's going on here.

"With the talent and the pitching, and what they were able to do last year ... that's a lot of positives. No reason we can't compete this year. And I couldn't be happier to be back working with Clint; the fact he wanted me back with him says a lot. I'm very thankful for the opportunity to play shortstop every day for at least a couple of more years."

Hurdle could not be happier to have given him that opportunity. The manager regarded the previous Pirates shortstop, Ronny Cedeno, as somehow symbolic of the team's modestly-set bar. In contrast, Barmes becomes the anchor of an infield in which he is expected to be surrounded by a developing high-end prospect (third baseman Pedro Alvarez) and others not at their natural positions (second baseman Neil Walker and the first-base platoon of Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones).

"He'll make our second baseman better," Hurdle said of Barmes. "He'll make our third baseman better. His presence in everything he does is going to help us.

"His makeup fits our club and our city. He's a blue-collar kid who has had to scratch and claw and fight for everything he's got."

Spoken by the man who had taken it away from him. Well, technically, the taker was Troy Tulowitzki; the Rockies could not delay the arrival of a prospect such as him. But Hurdle, then manager of the Rockies, had to inform Barmes at the end of August '06, "Sorry, kid. There's a new shortstop in town."

That's how Barmes bottomed out in a spiral that had begun on June 5, 2005, when he was carrying a batting average of .329 and a grocery-bag containing a turkey. Barmes tripped, fracturing a bone in his shoulder, the turkey fell, as did his average. He returned that September to hit .216 (and would get it over .245 only once in the ensuing six seasons, in 2008, when he hit .290 for Colorado).

And then his position was being taken away, soon to be followed by his big league uniform. Barmes spent most of 2007 with Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League. It was the worst, and best, thing that ever happened to him.

"I found myself," he said. "Nobody wants to take a step backward, but even at the time I knew it was one that I needed to take. As much time as I spent in Triple-A, it was definitely something I needed. I may not have enjoyed the process, but it helped my career.

"It made me better. I went down and worked on my hitting and my defense continued to improve. It became a huge year for me to rebuild mentally, too. The way I looked at it, 'I'll do everything to get back.'"

When he did, it was to play second base next to Tulowitzki, for three seasons. A season-and-a-third into that, Hurdle was dismissed by the Rockies, replaced by Jim Tracy.

Both appear to have leaped at this chance for a reunion.

"Barmes had experience and is still getting better," the manager said. "Personally, I believe he's got his best years in front of him."

"Having a relationship with him obviously played a part (in signing with the Pirates). I'd be lying if I didn't say my contract had a little bit to do with it as well," said the shortstop, who has the first multiyear (two years at $10.5 million) contract of his career. "But the opportunity to play shortstop also made the decision very easy. That's where I've always wanted to play, what I've always considered my primary position."

Barmes will fit into the lineup as someone with good gap power, enough to occasionally go over the wall. There is also enough speed to make him at least an alternate on the Bucs' basepaths' track team.

The element Hurdle hopes becomes most contagious is the hard nose with which Barmes plays. Barmes hasn't personally been given that speech, and does not promise to be running through walls. But he does pledge to make a run at that wall every chance.

"One thing I've always tried to do is just be a professional," he said. "I show up every day and give everything I've got. As simple as it sounds, that's been my philosophy, and I've taken pride in that."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.