SURPRISE — Over 10 years ago, Rangers pitcher Tony Barnette’s favorite activities included making rounds on Tempe’s Mill Avenue with his friends and enjoying biscuits and gravy from Harlow’s Cafe the next morning.
Now, Barnette enjoys the beautiful Arizona sunrises and sunsets and hiking trails with his kids.
“That’s what I enjoy out of Arizona in this stage of my life,” Barnette said.
Barnette first came to Arizona, from Washington, in 2002 when he committed to play baseball for Central Arizona College.
Barnette spent two years playing at the junior college level at Central Arizona then committed to play at Arizona State.
“Growing up in the part of Washington I did, Arizona State was always revered as the baseball mecca,” Barnette said.
When the opportunity to play at ASU presented itself Barnette jumped at.
“Growing up, being at Arizona State, it was one of those things being in Washington it didn’t really seem attainable,” Barnette said.
Every year, half of Major League Baseball travels to the Valley to prepare for the upcoming season.
For some, it is just an extra month and a half at home.
“You get an extra month and half a lot of these guys don’t get,” Rangers catcher Brett Nicholas said.
Nicholas, who is an Arizona native, calls the Valley “home” year-round although, like many in the game, his future is uncertain. He was designated for assignment on Wednesday after starting 26 games with the team during the last two seasons. The Rangers must decide whether to trade, release or put him on waivers.
For now, he’s grateful to be a local.
“A lot of these guys they are leaving their families in early February, where for me I am fortunate enough I get a month and half to sleep in my own bed, going home every night, having home cooking,” said Nicholas, who attended Pinnacle High School and played one year at Scottsdale Community College.
Even though almost 10 years have gone by, Nicholas still makes the effort to stay in touch with coaches and teachers from both high school and college.
“It feels like it was just yesterday that we were there playing (and trying) to figure out what to do with life,” Nicholas said.
Nicholas also gets the rare opportunity to play in front of friends and family on a consistent basis.
“It’s great to play in front of people you grew up with,” Nicholas said. “It is fun to go places and have people come down and heckle.”
Like Nicholas, Barnette does his best to visit his former schools. With the exception of this year, due to Rangers Fan Fest, Barnette makes it to virtually all alumni events at Central Arizona College.
He hasn’t made it back to ASU the past few years, but he wants to make an effort to visit in the future.
Similar to most, Barnette and Nicholas can’t help but notice how much the area has grown.
“Being born and raised here in Phoenix, I lived up in the Desert Ridge area before it was Desert Ridge,” Nicholas said.
“Home” is a relative term for those who play professional baseball. For now, these two are enjoying having local roots.