Having come so close so often to giving up on his major league dream, Manny Barreda knows there’s only one surefire way to keep it alive: as long as you have a uniform, you have a chance.
The 32-year-old Barreda has worn his fair share of them over his 15-season professional career through the minors and the Mexican League that this week finally delivered him to the big leagues with the Orioles.
Yet even with this rebuilding club, a veritable land of opportunity for second-chancers and baseball vagabonds to finally break through, Barreda grew so discouraged he had to be convinced not to walk away. His debut was a reward for sticking it out just one more time.
“Guys get here in different ways, at different ages,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “His is a long, hard-fought path to get here.”
Barreda’s journey to the big leagues, charted from when he was in elementary school writing he wanted to play in Major League Baseball when he grew up, began when the New York Yankees drafted him in the 12th round in 2007 out of Arizona’s Sahuarita High. He was a hard-throwing right-hander whose early career was marred first by Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, then command issues.
“I didn’t know what I was trying to do,” Barreda said. “I think a lot of it was just me not knowing who I was, not being able to identify the type of pitcher I needed to be. My first, I want to say nine years, that’s how it was.”
The Yankees released him in 2014, and he landed at the Milwaukee Brewers’ Double-A affiliate in Biloxi, Mississippi.
A year later, he found his best path was pitching in the Mexican League, which isn’t affiliated with MLB. He doesn’t want his time there to be considered a hardship — he said it was great, and financially was the right choice. But instead of being in the massive pool of players in affiliated baseball, he found himself on the outside.
“We’re just watching people that we know, people that we played against, getting called up and wishing, ‘Hey, you know what? Maybe I can get an opportunity,’” Barreda said.
After a few seasons there, pitching for Tijuana, Barreda took his career into his own hands. He asked to be a starter and told himself it would be the last thing he tried.
“If it works out, I’ll ride with it, but if it doesn’t, this will be the end of the road for baseball,” he said.
Barreda started some in winter ball in 2016, then as a reinvented starter pitched well enough to get signed by the Atlanta Braves in August 2017. He pitched well in the last month for Triple-A Gwinnett, but it was back to Tijuana for two more seasons after that.
Without a season in 2020, he worked out at the ballpark in Tijuana and stayed ready as the team tried to help him catch on with a major league organization. He figured with such concern about pitcher health, he could be a depth arm at an alternate site.
“A couple teams that they reached out to, they were told, ‘We’re not interested in him. He’s too old. He doesn’t fit our mold. And that was kind of disappointing,” he said. “At that point, I was like, ‘I think I am a little old. Maybe my career is just about to settle down here in Mexico.’ That was a moment where I was like, ‘I’m probably not getting back into affiliated baseball.’ Not too many guys sign out of Mexico, [especially] guys above 30.”
That changed at the Caribbean Series, where Orioles director of pro scouting Mike Snyder liked what he saw and called Barreda in February to express the team’s interest. Snyder was honest, Barreda said, in telling him he didn’t even know what they’d be able to offer him.
“Financially, at the moment I didn’t really think about it,” Barreda said. “I was just like, ‘Hey, I don’t care. I just need that opportunity.’ And I’m sure for a lot of guys down here, that’s how it is. They’d play for free if it came down to it. If they could play for free just to be here and have this opportunity, I’m sure a lot of them would, you know?”
Barreda almost never got the chance — he caught COVID, perhaps while playing winter ball, and the team wanted to make sure he was healthy before moving forward. He signed in March and went to Norfolk. He found the opportunity wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Midseason, he wanted to quit. He’s thankful Snyder told him to hold tight and stay in Norfolk, even as almost every pitcher he started the season with either got promoted to the majors at some point or released.
“At times, when I was pitching well, obviously you feel good about yourself,” Barreda said. “But I knew that with one outing, I could be the guy who was gone, who was no longer in the organization because that’s how baseball is. I’m realistic. I was realistic with what I was. I was an older guy, so I knew I had to perform day-in and day-out. and go about things the right way, day-by-day. As days passed by, it felt further. Even this month, when this one started, seeing guys get called up I was like, ‘Dang, that’s awesome. But when is that going to be me? Is that ever going to be me?’ I’m not going to lie, I was losing hope, especially this last week.”
He pitched sporadically after returning in the second week of August from a memorable stint pitching for Mexico at the Tokyo Olympics, and faced just two batters in Norfolk’s most recent series against Charlotte.
But his wife, Karla, and two-year-old daughter Sofia were in town Monday preparing to travel with him to Durham for this week’s series when Tides manager Gary Kendall called to tell him he was a big leaguer.
It’s been a whirlwind since. He’d been, as minor leaguers put it, “feeling September.” He was ready to go home. But instead, he came to Baltimore and on Wednesday pitched a scoreless eighth inning that set up their comeback win. His wife and daughter joined him behind home plate after the game and shared the moment together, Sofia grinning the whole time.
A day later, with the Orioles trailing late again, Barreda allowed a two-run home run to Hunter Dozier to spoil his perfect major league account. Considering his 15-season journey to get to what he referred to as the pinnacle, he might challenge the adage of it being more difficult to stay in the big leagues than to make it to them.
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“Do I wish for a longer journey than this?” Barreda said. “Yes, I do. But, right now, I’ve just got to take it day-by-day. I have family who’s going, ‘Hey, we’ll see you in the next couple road trips.’ I tell them, ‘Hold on, I’ve still got to make it past tomorrow.’ I’m still thankful to be here, but now that I’ve already done it, I’ve just got to put the work in and show them that I can be here.”