Jackie 'really, really special' to Barfield
PHOENIX -- D-backs farm director Josh Barfield called his dad, former big league outfielder Jesse Barfield, one morning recently and asked him what he was up to.
“Watching the 'Jackie Robinson Story,'” the elder Barfield replied.
“My dad is a huge Jackie Robinson fan, as am I,” Josh Barfield said. “He’s been a hero in our household for obvious reasons. I read the Jackie Robinson autobiography. He’s a guy that’s really, really special to us. It’s not just about the player he was, but the character he had. What he endured so that we can play today.”
A fourth-round Draft pick by the Padres in 2001, Barfield played 309 games over his four-year Major League career. Barfield retired as a player after spending 2013 playing for Long Island in the Independent Atlantic League, but he was not be out of the game for long.
Dave Stewart, who was then the D-backs’ general manager, hired Barfield for a scouting position after the 2014 season. Right away, it was apparent to people in the organization that as much potential as Barfield had as a player, he had equally as much as an executive.
After Stewart was dismissed following the 2016 season, Mike Hazen took over as general manager. Not only did he keep Barfield on, but he made him assistant director of pro scouting.
“I think it was pretty apparent early on in the first meetings we had that he just had a feel for the game,” Hazen said. “Those of us coming in knew his playing background, but we were impressed, I think, just with the way he was able to break down players, his intelligence. And he has an obvious presence about him.”
As then-farm director Mike Bell began to get more attention as a possible managerial or GM candidate with other clubs, Hazen wanted to make sure the team had had a backup plan for the position. So Barfield was shifted over to assistant director of player development under Bell.
“He’s such a good person,” said Bell, who left this winter to become the Twins’ bench coach. “The way he treats the people around him, it’s impressive. He’s so engaged with everybody, whether it’s players, coaches, scouts, people who work around the ballpark. I just think that people respect him and enjoy working with him and want to do well because he’s leading them.”
While Barfield got to work with Bell for two years before taking over, there’s nothing that quite prepares you for being the person in charge until you actually do it.
After the organization’s instructional league in January, Barfield was starting to feel a little more settled in his role. When Minor League pitchers and catchers reported, he was starting to settle in.
Then came the first day the full squad reported. That also happened to be the day that baseball paused its operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Barfield’s task went from getting the 208 players in Spring Training ready for the season to finding a way to get them all home safely.
“I’m definitely learning some crisis management strategies,” Barfield said. “This has definitely helped improve my communication skills. Ultimately, I think when we get back to normalcy and playing baseball and everything, it will make the job seem a little bit easier after this.”
Barfield has established a telephone tree of sorts with Minor League trainers, coaches and managers each given a number of players they need to reach out to each week to make sure that they are healthy and doing OK.
“I know how this impacts their lives and their families and their careers,” Bell said. “So trying to keep them updated with the latest information as I get it, I feel, is very important.”
As he looks to a future of baseball being played again, Barfield also thinks about history and is thankful that Jackie Robinson had the courage to be a trailblazer in the sport.
“Our world is so different today than it was back then,” Barfield said. “I think it’s really hard for people to appreciate just how much [abuse] he took. Are there still social injustices today? Yes, but not nearly to the level that he had to take on an everyday basis -- and he had to go out and perform. It’s hard enough to perform at the Major League level, and then he was dealing with all this other stuff. It’s just amazing.”