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How Aaron Barrett found ‘perspective’ in injury comeback originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
* January is Men’s Mental Health Month at NBC Sports and NBC Sports Washington. As part of our coverage, NBC Sports Washington presents HeadStrong, a series of mental health stories from our region’s athletes and teams.
In the latest feature, Washington Nationals pitcher Aaron Barrett, along with Innovation Health’s Dr. Sunil Budhrani, outline Barrett’s remarkable comeback from injury.
That’s the question Aaron Barrett screamed as he doubled over in pain, clutching his right arm after snapping his humerus bone while throwing a pitch at a Florida practice facility in 2016. When the day began, he appeared to be on the cusp of returning to the majors almost a year after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow.
But instead, a loud crack that still haunts those who were close enough to hear it signaled the start of yet another rehab process. Barrett, a Nationals relief pitcher who broke into the majors as a rookie in 2014, had never experienced anything like it. A spontaneous fracture like that was usually considered a career-ending injury. Barrett wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to use his arm normally again, never mind pitch in the major leagues.
“I was about ten days away from going on my major-league rehab assignment,” Barrett said in an interview with NBC Sports Washington. “That’s how close I was to getting back to the major leagues from my Tommy John and when that moment happened, when I broke my arm, I honestly went into shock and it was such a traumatic event.
“Just dealing with that coming back, it took a whole year for the bone to heal itself. Throwing a baseball was wasn’t even on my mind. There are just there are so many grueling days of rehab and painful, painful days that I’ll never forget.”
After having two plates and 16 screws inserted into his arm — only a year removed from elbow surgery that required replacing his UCL and shaving down bone spurs — Barrett took some time before coming to a decision: He was going to try and make it back.
The physical rehabilitation was grueling, but perhaps the most difficult obstacle Barrett had to overcome was managing his mental health. He continued to ask the question, “Why me?” He felt like he was a good person who didn’t deserve to go through the ordeal he was facing. But not long after, his wife became pregnant and it shifted his perspective both on the injury and life itself.
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“We were so fortunate and blessed to be able to have my wife became pregnant and that motivation that we had completely changed,” Barrett said. “It’s like now my only focus is I just want to be able to hold my daughter in my right arm. That was now my new motivation. I didn’t care about throwing the baseball. I didn’t care about making it back. That was my number one.”
On June 15, 2018, exactly 1,043 days after his last appearance in professional baseball, Barrett took the mound for the Nationals’ Single-A short-season affiliate Auburn Doubledays and made his return with a scoreless sixth inning. It would be more than a year before Barrett would make it to the major leagues. When he finally did receive the call up to Washington, he was overcome with emotion.
The moment Aaron Barrett found out he was going back to the bigs. Congratulations, Aaron!
cc: @Nationals @masnNationals @MLB @MiLB @aaronbarrett30 pic.twitter.com/RSxQ1b9dMT
— Harrisburg Senators (@HbgSenators) September 3, 2019
“What’s really interesting about Aaron Barrett’s story is this comeback, this resiliency theme that he has shown…he probably surprised himself like we do ourselves many times in our comeback stories,” Dr. Sunil Budhrani, CEO of Innovation Health, said. “What happens in these typical kind of comeback stories — and his is surely not typical — is people grow stronger and they go better. But not only did he have that internal and physical fortitude to come back and come back strong, but he had the support system to encourage him that there was nothing he couldn’t do.”
Barrett finally pitched in an MLB game again Sept. 7, 2019. He fired off a scoreless inning against the Atlanta Braves and walked off the mound.