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"When you're on the road, you don't want to study," Barton says. "The last thing you want to do is open a book after the game. No matter how many books I brought, I didn't open one."
Singiresu Rao, the chair of Miami's mechanical and aerospace engineering department, says the major is arduous even for students who aren't spending their evenings in the batting cage. "With term papers, projects and exams, the average student has to work about 60 to 70 hours a week," says Rao, noting that the program admits only 30 people each year. "If they're playing sports, they have to manage time very well."
Rao taught Barton's aerospace structural design course, in which students learn skills like how to design airplane wings with the proper size and thickness to keep a craft airborne. "I found him to be very punctual," Rao says. "He used to maintain time, whereas other students came late. He was always diligent. His performance may not have been at the top of the class, but he always put forth a tremendous effort."
Barton says college was the first time in his life when his dual career paths became a novelty.
"People would emphasize that instead of my performance," he says. "I remember one time I had a four-for-four game and we won, but afterward all the reporters were like, 'Hey Barton, tell me about your major.' It's good to have that story, to have kids who look up to athletes be able to say they can go to school and get an education and still be successful in sports. I'm not ashamed of my major, I'm not ashamed of what I want to do. I just may possibly do something else. Let me come to that conclusion."
RBI founder John Young believes Barton's commitment to his education hindered his development as a ballplayer. "When he was in college, he'd do internships at Boeing instead of the high-profile summer leagues that other prospects go to," Young says. "If Brian would not have been so academic, he probably would have been a first-round draft choice."
"People just felt like his commitment was to his education and not likely to the game of baseball," says Cardinals general manger John Mozeliak, explaining why Barton went undrafted out of college. "What ends up happening is players that have options — alternative career choices if you will — teams will shy away. In baseball there's a lot of failure; you have to understand the adversity that's in this game and the dedication it takes to overcome that."
Barton went on to sign with the Cleveland Indians and worked his way through their minor-league system to the AAA level at Buffalo. In December 2007 the Cardinals paid the requisite $50,000 to acquire him in the Rule 5 draft, a process that prevents teams from stockpiling minor-league talent by allowing unprotected prospects to be picked up by opposing teams.
"They are players that are maybe not good enough to be worried about losing but may have some value," Mozeliak says of Rule 5 picks. "I suspect Cleveland felt that since [Barton] had sustained a knee injury the year before, he might slide a little in productivity. We liked his offensive ability, his ability to get on base and his ability to run. We factored in that he could play multiple outfield positions and he just seemed like a very attractive pick."
Rule 5 draftees come with a significant contingency: In order to hang on to Barton, the Cardinals must keep him on their active roster for the entire 2008 season. Barton made the big-league club on the final day of spring training — by a whisker. Now, nearly halfway through his rookie year, he has appeared in 56 games and has 27 hits in 110 at-bats (including one in his first major-league plate appearance). He says he's still getting to know St. Louis and hasn't had much time to get out and experience the city. He lives about five minutes from Busch Stadium.
And for entertainment? "I don't know if you'd call it fun, but I read, I write. Sometimes if I've got something on my mind, I just write."
When his teammates aren't subjecting him to rookie mistreatment, they say Barton keeps to himself. "He's a good teammate and a good guy to be around," says second baseman Adam Kennedy, whose locker is next to Barton's. "But obviously me and him have no common factors when it comes to talking about [rocket science]."
Manager Tony La Russa praises Barton's "high-average stroke" and says the rookie has done an excellent job of being prepared to play every day in a crowded Cardinals outfield. Of Barton's reputation as the smartest guy on the team, La Russa says, "You can tell when you talk to him he's an intelligent guy. But the way he uses that intelligence on the baseball diamond — that's for real. He's very aware."
Reserved and soft-spoken, Barton plays down most praise that comes his way. When asked if he believes he's the fastest player on the team, a question that seems like a no-brainer for anyone who has seen him devour the base paths with the lengthy strides afforded by his six-foot-three frame, he says, "I just try to work with what I have and let the people who watch be the judge of that."