By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Worcester – It is no secret that the life of a catcher in baseball at any level can be stressful and unheralded at best. A high pain tolerance is a must to fend off the constant nicks, cuts and repeated foul balls clanging off one’s mask. But try to be successful without a solid backstop leading your team. Odds are that it just won’t happen.
That is precisely why Worcester Bravehearts manager J.P. Pyne lauds the performance of Grafton’s Nick Barry, whom he refers to as the “glue” that holds the team together. Such lofty praise does not surface easily so coming from Pyne, you just know that Barry is the real deal.
“Nick is one of the most important guys on our team,” said Pyne without hesitation. “The leadership that he brings to our pitching staff is really critical to our development. He’s a very aggressive game-caller. He’s very protective of his pitchers. A starting pitcher that looks at the lineup card on his night and sees Nick Barry there knows he’s in capable hands. He takes a great deal of pride in his defense and his ability to throw runners out and call a good game. He’s been a real leader for us.
“This team has become real tight, real quick and I give a lot of credit for that to Nick Barry. He’s our glue. He’s the unquestioned leader when he’s behind the plate and when he’s in our clubhouse.”
The 6’3”, 215 lb. junior from UMass-Lowell, a criminal justice major, is as tough as nails in all aspects of his game. Defense is admittedly his strong suit but he has come along nicely with the bat with several key hits for the Bravehearts.
“I pride myself on defense. I work hard at it but I’ve definitely come around on my hitting,” Barry explained. “I take my job behind the plate seriously. I care about what the pitchers think and how they like to throw and I really put all that into catching them.”
Another attribute much to the liking of coaches and players is his sense of humor that keeps the clubhouse loose yet serious when the need arises. One of his biggest supporters of his attributes on and off the field is UMass-Lowell River Hawks coach Ken Harring.
“He’s a solid Division 1 catcher,” Harring said. “He’s a presence out there because he’s big and strong. He’s an amazing defender and his offense is improving constantly. Pitchers love to throw to him because he’s so steady. He even calls his own games which is not all that common.
“Off the field, he has a great sense of humor and his teammates gravitate to him. He knows when to make the situation light but turn it serious when it’s time to do so. He’s great kid that doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’s a pleasure to have on our team.”
“He keeps the guys loose,” said Pyne in agreement with Harring’s assessment. “He’s quick to pick a guy up and help a guy out that might have issues but he also does a really good job in flipping that switch when it’s time to compete and nobody competes harder than he does.”
“I like to keep it fun and keep it loose,” added Barry. “I know the difference between keeping it too loose so when we get between the lines, it’s all business. But outside, we’re really close so I know that on the field, they’re going to have my back and I’m going to have theirs.”
Barry cites his dad and older brother in being significant sports influences. He competed in football and basketball before determining that baseball was the sport that he was most passionate. He went on to compete for Worcester Academy before making the leap to college ball where he recorded a .970 fielding percentage while starting in 17 of 22 games played.
As a sophomore, he would start in 25 of 27 games played, record 152 putouts and achieve an OBP of .311 while knocking down 12 of 23 runners attempting to steal.
Becoming a Braveheart was a dream come true and the transformation from college baseball to Futures League with a packed house night after night was a giant step for Barry. But being local and having been to several games eased things some, he admits.
“I’ve played before some big crowds but not as regularly as it is here. The fans are really behind us even when we’re not doing as well as we should be, they’re still behind us. But it’s really fun playing here and I’m glad I had the chance to join this team.”
And as far as his long-range plans for baseball, Barry, like his teammates, knows that doing the best job day to day is what counts.
“You never know. We’re all trying our hardest here to see how far we can go. We’re putting it all out there and we’ll see what happens.”