Rio Grande bolsters future with Barnett

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2007

PROCTORVILLE — NFL Hall of Fame coach George Allen said, “The future is now.”

Jack Nickolson as the Joker in the first Batman movie told a corrupt police lieutenant Eckhardt, “Think about the future.”

University of Rio Grande head baseball coach Brad Warnimont said thinks about the future and he thinks about it being now or a couple of years away, thanks to the signing of Fairland Dragons pitcher Chris Barnett.

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Unable to pitch virtually for the past two seasons, Barnett underwent Tommy John elbow surgery to repair his damaged arm.

Now that he is regaining his health and pitching in summer baseball for the Ashland (Ky.) Post 76, Barnett is healthy enough that Warnimont has signed the young pitcher to play for the Rio Grande Redmen.

“We don’t see him where he is now but where he’s going to be,” said Warnimont. “Chris has the potential to be our No. 1 once he’s fully rehabbed.”

Warnimont said former Fairland players Adam Fuller and Cory McKnight, members of the Rio Grande team, kept feeding updates on Barnett to their coach.

“Adam Fuller said, ‘Coach, we need to email him.’ We knew he had Tommy John surgery and we leet him know we weren’t giving up on him,” Warnimont said.

Barnett is making plans to bring the future closer to the present.

“I expect to get back to full strength and even become a conference pitcher as a freshman,” said Barnett.

Barnett’s surgery was performed last May and Barnett said it was the work of Cincinnati Reds medical director and chief orthopedic physician Dr. Tim Kremchek and Huntington (W.Va.) Physical Therapy’s Kevin Burton that returned him to health.

The all-district performer was courted by a number of schools including Miami of Ohio, Marshall, Wright State, Mount Vernon, West Virginia State, West Virginia Tech, and the University of Charleston (W.Va.).

“Rio Grande was closer to home and I like the program. It’s on the rise,” said Barnett.

Barnett pitched only 11 innings this past season. Fairland coach Roger Snyder said it wasn’t enough work to showcase Barnett’s talent, but he said the talent is definitely there.

“We knew he was capable of being a good pitcher. We saw glimpses of it,” said Snyder. “Having some college team sign him doesn’t surprise me at all. We felt he could have been as good as Michael Hill.”

Hill is the former Fairland pitcher now at the University of Cincinnati.

Snyder added that Barnett is still very young and has plenty of room to develop.

“He has a good fastball and a good curveball. Once they put some weight on him and get him stronger, he’ll be quite a pitcher for them,” said Snyder.

Warnimont agreed.

“You can’t teach 6-foot-4. We feel like we can get him to 190 pounds pretty quick and get him a lot stronger,” Warnimont said.

Rio Grande was 24-27 last season, but 28 of those games were against ranked teams plus Ohio University.

“We want to challenge our kids. We had five freshmen in the lineup last season and we made the regionals. We think Chris can help us be better once he’s at full strength,” said Warnimont.

Barnett’s surgery was performed last May and he offered thanks to Cincinnati Reds medical director and chief orthopedic physician Dr. Tim Kremchek and Huntington (W.Va.) Physical Therapy’s Kevin Burton who returned him to health.

Chris is the son of Steven and Martha Barnett of Proctorville.