Brian Barton thinks outside of the batters’ box. One of the game’s most cerebral players, Barton has a passion for knowledge and culture that stretches far beyond the clubhouse in Busch Stadium. A 26-year-old native of Los Angeles who studied aerospace engineering at the University of Miami, Barton was acquired by the Cardinals prior to last season in the Rule 5 draft. Originally signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Indians in 2004, the right-handed-hitting outfielder appeared in 82 games for the Cardinals, hitting .268/.354/.392 with a pair of home runs. Barton talked about his never-ending quest for knowledge, and his love of travel, after a spring training game in Lakeland, and before his recent demotion to the minor leagues.
David Laurila: How would you describe Brian Barton?
Brian Barton: I’m a person who tries hard to think outside the box. I’m really big on imagination in the sense of getting out of the traditional way of thinking. I want to expand myself, so I’m always searching for knowledge. I’m a knowledge-seeker and a thinker, I guess. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had this quest for knowledge and have been interested in things, even things that kind of seem a little bit outside of the norm. Growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut, because I always had this interest in space. I’ve always wondered what is out there.
DL: Baseball is a culture in and of itself. Do you ever sit in the clubhouse and try to analyze what is going on around you?
BB: Around a baseball field, I’m very observant, so I like to watch a lot of people. I like to see how people interact with each other, and how they go about their business. There is definitely a lot of culture within the game of baseball. With that being said, it is amazing to see where different people come from, and how different people act, and it’s those different aspects that make the game itself amazing. You’ve got people from all different backgrounds playing a common game, and bringing so much to the game.
DL: In previous generations, thinking outside the box wasn’t exactly accepted in baseball. Is that still the case?
BB: I guess, in a sense, it does kind of happen. A lot of people just aren’t used to stretching their imagination. I’m not saying that I’m better than anybody else, but if you have people who have never been used to thinking outside the box, or just aren’t interested, then someone who does is going to maybe strike them as weird, or whatnot. I know a lot of the people I’m around may think that some of the things I consider normal, or not that big of a deal, are extraordinary. But I’ve been doing this sort of thing, or thinking this way, all of my life, so to me it is normal. To somebody else, it may not seem like it is.
DL: When you were in Triple-A with the Indians, the pitching coach there was Scott Radinsky. He thinks outside the box.
BB: I love Rad. He’s a great guy, really outgoing. I know that he’s interested in music and used to play in a band. I talked to him a few times, and he gave me advice about the game. I kind of get a sense that he’s not coaching just for the thrill of making money and stuff like that. He has a real passion to teach, which is one thing that really drew me toward him, because I feel that’s the way we should all be. We should kind of get away from the materialistic and self-centeredness of the game and actually start reaching out to the players. If we did, I feel that the game could go in a totally different direction from where it’s going now.
DL: You like to travel. Do you think you look at travel differently than most of your teammates?
BB: I definitely do. To me… I travel for the culture; I travel for what it is to learn about different people’s cultures and about different people in general. I like to learn about different ways of life. I know that a lot of people travel for the thrill and excitement, and for the tourist attractions. I think that what I get from traveling is deeper than that. I feel a connection, and I try to get a connection when I travel, and I think that is what makes it more rewarding. I think that’s why I have such an appreciation for it when I am there. And I think that when I talk about it with people, what they expect, and what they hear from me, might be two different things, because they expect me to describe it this way: ‘I did this or I did that.’ But what they actually hear, and they actually see the passion in my telling of the story, they realize that I got something even more out of it.
DL: Can you give an example?
BB: I was in Ethiopia, which was my first trip, and I guess that people assume that going to Africa, I’m probably going out there to safari and do touristy stuff and whatnot. But it was totally opposite, because for one, I didn’t safari. I interacted with the people. I was in the process of trying to learn the language even before I went, but the fact is that I was out there, and I saw from my own perspective, which was different from hearing other people’s perspectives, especially from people who had never been out there. It changed me as a person, because it made me realize that in order to really gauge something you have to experience it yourself. Experiencing it touched me. It changed my outlook on the world, period. People are people, regardless of where you live or whatnot. You should have an appreciation for those types of connections that you get when you’re interacting with others. That right there is something that people totally didn’t expect. They didn’t expect me to go somewhere to connect with others, more so than just having fun. Not that I didn’t have a great time, but for me it’s more than just having a great time and taking a few pictures.
DL: How do you think the people in Ethiopia perceived you?
BB: I think they perceived me in a good way, because the people I interacted with realized… they had an appreciation for the fact that I was interested. I was trying to speak to them and I was trying to learn their language. I was interested in learning about their culture, instead of just assuming and having these preconceptions of what they are and who they are. There was the fact that I felt comfortable enough to try to overlook our differences and learn.
DL: From your observations, how differently is sport looked at in that part of the world?
BB: In talking to people, I don’t think there was too much knowledge of baseball, but at the same time, they look at sports in America, at least from what I gathered, as an opportunity to seek success. They feel that, even outside of sports, that just coming from America I’m already in a better position. They see America as a place for opportunity, and sports is just another opportunity.
DL: How much do you think the way people around the world view the United States changed with the recent election?
BB: Being in Australia, and actually watching the election there, I saw the impact that it had. I saw the hope in other people’s eyes. There was a statistic that 72 percent of the people in Australia were in favor of Obama being president, which is probably about 20 percent higher than it was here in the States. So I know that it definitely had a great impact, because I was able to see the hope in people’s eyes. All over the world, I think it had the same effect.
DL: Is there hope in your eyes?
BB: There’s always hope in my eyes.