SPRINGFIELD – Braxton Barnes and Hunter Dryden are both sophomore right-handed pitchers for the Springfield Drifters, but their roles with the team are vastly different.
The Drifters begin their second season Friday night in the West Coast League, a collegiate wood-bat league. Springfield plays host to Port Angeles in the season’s first three-game series. The Friday and Saturday games begin at 6:35 p.m., and first pitch is at 1:05 p.m. for Sunday’s finale.
While Dryden was chosen to start Game 2 on Saturday, Barnes is just hoping to contribute any way he can. After fighting his way back from a major arm injury, Barnes has a 10-day contract with the Drifters. Two years ago, Barnes tore his entire rotator cuff and labrum.
“They did an MRI two weeks before the 2021 season, and they told me I pretty much don’t have a shoulder anymore – you’ve been throwing with no shoulder for the last six months,” Barnes said Wednesday during the team’s media day.
“In rehab, I had to learn how to rotate my arm again, and learn how to pick it up again. It’s been a whole process — and it has really made me appreciate the game and appreciate every day.”
No matter what, Barnes said he plans to play at Hamlin Field again. Having just graduated from Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest, Calif., the 21-year-old right-hander is hoping to transfer to Bushnell in the fall.
“I have three more years of eligibility. I can’t wait to call this my home stadium, because Bushnell plays all of its games here,” Barnes said. “This is a gorgeous, gorgeous facility. It makes you feel like a big-leaguer, that’s for sure. …“This is a dream come true to play for a beautiful ballclub – great team, great community – everyone I’ve met has been very welcoming. It’s an awesome atmosphere.”
If baseball doesn’t pan out in the long run, Barnes said he’s interested in environmental sciences.
“I’d like to be a fish and game warden or maybe a biologist,” he said. “I want to give back to the animals and environment. Oregon and Northern California are such beautiful places, it’s hard not to want to give back to the environment.”
Both players raved about the Hamlin facility, and both had nothing but praise for Drifters coach Tommy Richards.
“As soon as I found out Tommy was coaching, I thought it would be a fun opportunity,” Dryden said. “When I was being recruited, it was between Whitworth – the team I’ve been playing for – and Tommy, so we played against him in the same league.
“Everybody loves Tommy. Back when I was being recruited, he came all the way from Walla Walla to Spokane (153 miles) to see me play a basketball game, and he was recruiting me for baseball. He’s a great guy. He wants to see all of us get better.”
“Coach Richards has been phenomenal, he’s the whole reason I’m out here,” Barnes said.
Dryden said his goal is to get better every day.
“The ultimate goal is to get better at all phases of the game – hitting, pitching and fielding,” Dryden said. “I got better as a player last year, and I plan to do the same this year.
“I want to play baseball as long as I can – my parents always said, play as long as you can because you’re gonna miss it when it’s gone. We’ll see how far it takes me.”
Richards said he’s happy with his team’s early progress. But he says the team needs to play a few games before gauging its growth.
“To me it’s a little bit less of a macro look, as far as being on schedule,” Richards said. “It’s more trying to make a first down, one day at a time, did we do a good job with the roster, we’ve got practice tonight, are we going to have a good practice?
“Having a year of experience under our belt is a good thing for us. We have guys coming back who represented us well last year, guys who played hard, who play the way we want our players to play. Good mentality, hustled on and off the field.
“We’re evolving, trying to learn from last year.”