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Rangers' Barnette has found his desert oasis

Born in Alaska and raised in Seattle, right-hander now calls Arizona home
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Like other Rangers pitchers, Tony Barnette puts in a full day of work during Spring Training -- going through the weightlifting, conditioning, fundamental drills and a regimented throwing program.

But when the day is over, while most of his teammates return to their hotel or rented condo, Barnette heads south to his little patch of heaven amid the Sonoran Desert.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Like other Rangers pitchers, Tony Barnette puts in a full day of work during Spring Training -- going through the weightlifting, conditioning, fundamental drills and a regimented throwing program.

But when the day is over, while most of his teammates return to their hotel or rented condo, Barnette heads south to his little patch of heaven amid the Sonoran Desert.

The coldblooded reliever turns back into father, husband and gentleman gardener on his 1 1/2-acre home in Litchfield Park. There, Barnette, his wife Hillary, daughters Madelyn and Loretta, and a Labrador mix named Penny can sit out in their backyard beneath the Palo Verde, African Sumac and Chinese Pistache trees and take in the breathtaking view of the Valley of the Sun and the Superstition Mountains rising in the distance to the east.

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"It sits up on a hill," Barnette said. "We see the whole valley. A little hill in Arizona goes along way. I do like to go home. We have a nice comfortable house. Our intent was to make our home as much like a relaxing vacation spot as possible, because when the season is done or the day is done, we just like to have the comfort of home and the view."

There is a lush, hardy patch of summer rye grass for Madelyn and Loretta to roam, and blooming cactus, Baja fairy dusters, bougainvillea and other native desert plants that Tony and Hillary tend to with care.

"My oldest daughter is to the point where all she wants to do is play outside," Barnette said. "Having a nice patch of grass for her grow up on is good enough for me. There is a lot of beauty in Arizona, especially this time of year, when everything is blooming and growing. We are excited to see the fruits of our labor.

"It takes a lot of dedication. My wife is way more into it than I am. She really enjoys being out there, pruning and trimming and helping things grow. I follow her and carry the heavy stuff."

Yes, if you can keep the rabbits from enjoying the bountiful buffet, it is quite possible to bloom in the desert. Barnette has done just that, even if it seems he is out of his element.

Barnette is just one of 12 Major League players born in Alaska, and he grew up in the Seattle area, where the winters are cold and rain is a constant threat for those wanting to be on a pitcher's mound.

Everything changed in college -- first at Central Arizona and then at Arizona State, where he met Hillary. Since then, Barnette has never really left, even while spending six years pitching in Japan before signing with the Rangers.

"I kept migrating south until I found myself," Barnette said.

He also found Arizona is much different than the cinematic western stereotype of being hot, dusty and barren. It is also a state of high rugged mountains -- 210 separate ranges are listed on Wikipedia -- sweeping vistas of grandeur and cool, peaceful pine forests.

The Barnettes live in the shadow of the White Tank Mountains to the west, and that has become their favorite stomping grounds. Hillary grew up in the area, and the Barnettes carry on a long tradition of birthdays, family gatherings and hiking in the White Tanks.

Another favorite spot is Payson, a town of about 15,000 people and a 90-minute drive to the northeast. Payson is 5,000 feet in elevation amid the alpine lakes of the Tonto National Forest, and it sits at the base of the majestic 7,000-foot Mogollon Rim. Hillary's parents have a second house there, and many offseason weekends are spent breathing the crisp clean air of the Rim Country.

"There are pine trees as high as the sky when you start driving north and get up into the hills," Barnette said. "Cactus turns into trees, and the trees turn into pine trees, and the next thing you know, it's snowing on you. You are up at the lakes and there are all sorts of wildlife up there.

"My wife has a lot of knowledge of Arizona and the mountains. I just follow her. We have some favorite hikes depending on the weather and what kind of day and time of the year. If you get out early, you can see the wildlife come out, the deer, they get into the washes. There is so much to do in Arizona with all the mountains and the hiking trails, a lot of cool places if you do homework."

Barnette will depart his personal paradise in three weeks, when the Rangers break camp and head back to Texas to begin the regular season. But in reality, Arizona never really leaves him. It has become part of who he is as a father, husband and nature lover.

"My wife and I talk about living in other places, but it all comes back to Arizona," Barnette said.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Tony Barnette