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Barna brings whole Pack-age to Reno

Steve Yingling

At 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Chris Barna looks more suited for calling signals behind a quartet of ornery 300-pound defensive lineman like Ted “The Mad Stork” Hendricks did for the Raiders and Colts.

Barna calls signals but not as a head-hunting middle linebacker. Somehow Barna coaxes his massive body into a crouch behind home plate for three or four hours a day, receiving punishment from a deceptively harmless leather pill.

Once in the batter’s box, you get the full impact of Barna’s size. It wasn’t always that way. Despite earning honorable mention status in the Northern Nevada League his junior and senior baseball seasons at South Tahoe High, Barna didn’t belt the tape-measure homers expected of someone his size.

Consequently, the recruiters, including the Nevada Wolf Pack, kept their distance. Barna and his bundle of natural talent escaped to CSU San Bernardino, which is accustomed to big STHS alums. Levi Funderburk, a 6-6, 240-pound outfielder with the Chico Heat, played his college ball for the Coyotes before moving on to the minor leagues.

The Coyotes must have known they possessed something special because they tried to milk an extra season out of Barna by redshirting him. What the Coyotes didn’t know was that Barna wasn’t content being a bullpen catcher as a freshman. Matter of fact, Barna wasn’t the least bit happy in San Bernardino.

“I was confident that I’d get to play at San Bernardino, so I asked the coach what I really needed to work on in order to start playing, and he told me that I already was as good or better than the catchers that they were using. I caught in the bullpen and took pregame batting practice. The only thing I didn’t do was play in the games, and that really killed me,” Barna said.

Given that bit of confidence Barna knew there were other places to reveal his baseball talent.

“One thing I learned in San Bernardino is believe in what I can do. I didn’t know how good I was until I left Tahoe. Before I only knew how I stacked up with players from this area,” Barna said.

Ultimately, San Bernardino paid for leaving Barna off its 30-man roster. Since he wasn’t a member of the team Barna was permitted to transfer without having to sit out a season.

Hence, he decided to come home and play for the Pack. There was no scholarship waiting from Pack coach Gary Powers, who can’t comment on Barna until after school starts next week due to NCAA repercussions.

But Barna knows what he wants, and he’ll go after it as a walk-on, just like Miami Dolphins linebacker Mike Crawford from Whittell High did at Nevada.

“Powers doesn’t recruit much from this area. You have to be a pretty standout player to get recruited,” Barna said.

Barna knows Powers is interested because he attended one of his Tahoe Emeralds semipro games this summer. If Barna’s scouting report is accurate, the Pack has only one other catcher in mind for the starting job – a Lassen JC product.

“There’s no pressure for me to perform at Nevada because they’re not expecting much from me. But I put a lot of pressure on myself, because my dream is to make it to the pros,” he said. “There’s always an outside chance that I won’t make it at Nevada, then I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

In 40-plus games with the Emeralds this summer, Barna has learned that he belongs on a NCAA Division I diamond. Several of Barna’s future Nevada teammates pitched for the Emeralds, enabling him to bond and learn from his future teammates.

“They taught me a lot about how to pitch to certain people, how to set up batters on consecutive pitches and how to pitch batters according to their stances. By looking at a batter you can tell when they’re going for the fences or trying to put the ball in play,” Barna said.

In addition, Barna developed into the striking power hitter his body resembles.

In a 10-game stretch late in the season, Barna hit five homers. He credits former minor-league hitters Tommy Mitchell, Kevin’s brother, and Matt Konopisos.

“Before all of my power was to the opposite field. I’ve never been able to turn on an inside pitch, but finally by the end of summer I hit five homers, all of which I pulled out of the park.”

Emeralds manager Gary Shidaker, who enjoys giving local players a chance to play semipro ball, can go on and on about Barna’s development.

“He’s coming along in all phases of the game. He doesn’t really get stolen on,” said Emeralds manager Gary Shidaker said. “Here is a kid 19 years old, who had never called a game, and now he’s calling his own game. Pitchers used to shake him off a lot and now they don’t.”

Few walk-ons come in and start right off the bat. Barna believes that’s possible.

“I think that I’m good enough to play. I learned almost as much with the Emeralds as I did in San Bernardino. If I keep improving as I have been, who knows how far I can go,” said Barna, his voice rising a few pitches in excitement thinking about his promising future.

But for right now, Barna is a tower of power that fortuitously wound up at the Pack’s doorstep.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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