HOUSTON -- Astros outfielder Brandon Barnes made his mark on the Major Leagues as a rookie last season by becoming the first Houston player in seven years to hit for the cycle to go along with the highlight-reel catches that became his way of life in the outfield.
The 27-year-old Californian quickly became a fan favorite on the young Astros for the high-flying way in which he played the game. He definitely has proven to be All-Star-worthy with the way he has conducted himself off the field, as well.
Barnes and his wife, Shawn, are hoping to raise $10,000 to benefit the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation by holding the inaugural Barnyard Wiffleball Invitational on Dec. 14 at The Office Sports Academy in his hometown of Anaheim.
"Me and my buddy were talking about wiffleball and messing around and playing some wiffleball, and thought it would be a cool idea if we put together some kind of event, like a wiffleball tournament," Barnes said. "One thing led to another and we thought to do it for charity, and maybe some people would come watch and have teams donate money to get a team in the tournament. The next thing, it's swelling up to a huge 10-team tournament with booths and vendors outside and people sponsoring the event. It just turned into a big deal so far."
This cause has extra special meaning for Barnes, whose younger stepbrother, Thomas, battled neuroblastoma when he was about 11 months old. Thomas had a cancerous tumor that had attached to his aorta, eroded his collarbone and squeezed between his vertebrae, passing his spinal cord and collapsing his right lung.
He underwent a successful surgery at 13 months to remove the majority of the tumor from his chest cavity and to insert a catheter in case chemotherapy would have been necessary. He had years of follow-up scans, tests and visits with his oncologist until he was about 14 years old. Thomas is now 19 years old and cancer free.
"He's a grown man that loves life and is enjoying this," Barnes said. "For me to be able to give back to him and support him has been awesome."
With the idea of a charity tournament in tow, Barnes set up an elaborate website for teams to apply to get into the tournament by asking why the cause of pediatric cancer means so much to them. Twenty teams applied, but the list was pared to 10 in order to allow the tournament to be played in one day. One team is coming in from Arizona.
"If we had anymore, it would be too long and it wouldn't fit into one day," Barnes said. "So what we're doing is a double-elimination, and the winner gets a trophy and T-shirts and a bunch of goodies for winning the tournament. We'll have different awards for hitters and pitchers. It's something I'm pretty excited about."
What's more, Barnes called on his friends in the Major League Baseball community and former teammates to donate items for a silent auction. Among the items up for bid are a baseball signed by Angels slugger Mark Trumbo, a Jose Altuve signed jersey and a bat signed by Barnes, as well as sports memorabilia and other equipment donated by tournament sponsors.
All the money raised will be sent to charity, Barnes said.
"If we do that, we can make the most of the money and then we can have food trucks and different vendors at different booths outside selling their products," he said. "Everything they sell is going towards PCRF."
Wiffleball is quite unique, with rules vastly different than baseball. Each team has three to five players and games last three innings. But there are no baserunners, because the game relies on pitching, hitting and defense. The pitcher's mound is 42 feet from the strike zone, and the farther you hit the ball, the better your chances are at scoring.
"I think it would be cool to bring it out here and make it big on the West Coast, especially making it a charity event and making it for a cause," Barnes said.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.