Miami’s Barr Returning To Form As Second-Generation Turk
Now Healthy, Barr Excels
By John Galle
HARRISONBURG- Between four shoulder dislocations during his freshman season at the University of Miami and having a potential Valley Baseball League stint at Waynesboro dashed due to corrective surgery for a torn labrum, it hasn’t exactly been a dream start to Christopher Barr’s college career.
But after redshirting as a sophomore, Barr’s luck appears to be changing.
On Monday night, Barr hit his first home run since middle school for the Harrisonburg Turks – the same Valley League team his father, Jim, played for in 1984 – and the 6-foot-1, 200 pound first baseman raised his batting average by hitting .375 in his last five games going into Tuesday.
The Turks lost 5-0 to Charles Town on Tuesday, snapping a five-game winning streak.
Fittingly, it was Barr’s father who essentially put him in a Turks uniform as he was hoping for a second chance in the VBL.
Jim Barr put in a phone call to the Turks well before Miami’s coaches began placing players in summer leagues, and then he convinced the Hurricans to send his son to Harrisonburg manager Bob Wease.
“I actually don’t think I’d be playing in the Valley League (if it wasn’t for my father),” Christopher Barr said, “…He talked to my coaches and basically got it going. They thought this was the best place in the Valley League and I thought so, too. I think he’s the reason I’m playing here in Harrisonburg.”
Harrisonburg’s season opener against New Market on May 30 marked Barr’s first time seeing live pitching in a competitive setting for a full calendar year. Admittedly, he was nervous, which translated into a slow start at the plate as Barr struggled to get his timing down against off-speed pitches.
“I was just trying to pick up the ball and see the spin,” Barr said.
Now, he said he’s seeing a variety of pitches well and using a larger bat – a 34-inch model rather than a 33-inch one. Barr said the new bat has made a difference, and the switch was possible given his improved strength.
Since Dr. Lee Kaplan performed his shoulder surgery in 2013, Barr put on 27 pounds while working with Miami’s new strength and conditioning coach Brian Gabriel.
“I got a lot of muscle weight,” said Barr, a left-hander who bars second for Harrisonburg. “…I felt a lot stronger and ever since I started doing well, I moved up to a size 34 bat.”
And the problematic shoulder? It’s been pain-free. In fact, Barr said he felt nothing heading into his summer campaign.
He had come a long way battling mental demons related to his shoulder injury, which originated on a dive back to first base on a pick-off attempt during his senior season at Royal Palm Beach High School. Barr finished out the season without getting it looked at, and the problem cropped up again on a similar dive back to second base on a pick-off throw against Virginia in Charlottesville.
Three more times he dislocated his shoulder as he decided to forego surgery until after his freshman season with the Hurricanes.
As far as Wease was concerned, getting ample playing time as a freshman in the Atlantic Coast Conference meant Barr had talent. So when Miami coaches told him Barr was ready, Wease trusted them and decided to give him a shot.
“It’s nice to know a father wants to bring his son to the same team he played on, because he knows how we take care of the players,” said Wease, who praised Barr for his versatility as an outfielder and first baseman. “…It makes you feel good that a father trusts you with his son.”
Wease said the father-son connection is extremely rare and may have only occurred one other time. The Turks picked up pitcher Austin Stephens off Rockbridge’s roster for the playoffs last year. Stephens’ father, Mark, played for Wease for a couple weeks in Harrisonburg before getting drafted in 1990. Austin Stephens is currently playing in the VBL with Charles Town.
Family support has been vital for Christopher Barr despite the distance between him and his siblings. His half-brother, Juan Martell, for example, lives in Thailand and is constantly traveling as the 2009 co-founder of Jet Asia, an airline based in Bangkok. Yet, Christopher Barr, the youngest of four children, said he’s always connected to them.
“We group chat every day. I don’t know if there’s any other families like this,” said Barr, who considers his grandmother, Annette Angeli, to be his No. 1 fan after she attended nearly all his games in Coral Gables, Fla., despite living over five hours away. “We’re all so far apart, but on our phones it seems we’re all right there with each other.”
Lady Luck may have joined Barr’s circle as well.
The 19-year-old with a thirst for adventure has been pleasantly surprised with Harrisonburg and activities offered in a mountainous setting that’s absent in Florida – especially the Luray Caverns. When a tour guide told him it was considered lucky when a drop of water fell from an overhead stalactite onto someone’s head, Barr took it a step further during his first excursion underground.
“If it’s lucky if it hits you, it’s got to be lucky if you drink it,” said Barr, who estimated consuming 10 droplets just before his luck turned.
Actually, Barr, who also saw a bald eagle for the first time during a kayaking trip with teammate Adam Cherry near Strasburg – would have left the caves extra lucky, but had empty pockets at a wishing well near the end of the tour.
Lucky for him, his parents and grandmother are coming to visit for 10 days in July – and they want to experiences the cavers for themselves.
“When I go back, I’m bringing a coin,” Barr said.