Barden and Ryal have both seen a lot in their careers. Barden was drafted out of Oregon State by the Diamondbacks in 2002. He reached the Majors with Arizona in 2007 and was later claimed off waivers by the Cardinals. All told, Barden has 175 major-league at-bats in 119 games.
Ryal was drafted by the Diamondbacks out of Oklahoma State in 2005. He made his debut with Arizona in 2009 and hit .263 in 134 games over two seasons before being released.
Both players journeyed over to Japan, Ryal for the entire 2011 season and Barden later that same year. Ryal joined the powerhouse Yomiuri Giants but hit just .198 in 33 games. It was the season following a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the country while the teams were still in spring training.
“I think a lot of things combined into not being comfortable, especially in another country,” Ryal said. “I wish I had the mindset of I had to fight through whatever adversity came up.”
Barden joined the Hiroshima Carp later that season. He said he was amazed by how fanatical the entire population seemed to be about baseball.
“I feel like it’s great but it’s a lot of pressure, especially when you get runners into scoring position, because it doesn’t happen a lot,” said Barden, who hit .281 in 64 games. “But at the same time it makes it fun, too. You don’t get that at this level. The majority of the guys in Japan are Triple-A, Four-A kind of guys, so to get that experience was pretty cool.”
Barden’s second season was over after 90 at-bats in the Japanese minor leagues due to a right elbow injury that eventually required surgery and brought him home to the United States in August of last year.
“Yeah, I had elbow issues for a couple years,” Barden said. “It just got to a point where it bothered me while I was hitting. So I basically rested for a couple months before I decided to come home and have surgery in late August. I rehabbed the whole offseason.”
Both Barden and Ryal spent last offseason hoping for calls from teams so they could keep playing. They figure to spend this offseason hoping for the same thing as time is not on their side.
“I plan to hit a lot this offseason just because my swing didn’t feel right all year,” Barden said. “I’ve been battling off and on to basically hit .270. I consider that a down year. But I want to go and just get my swing back and get in good shape and prepare for next spring training if that … well, I obviously need somebody to call me. That’s what I’m preparing for.”
Ryal said he hopes to play another five years, but at the same time he realizes the end could come at any time.
“I’d like to play for a few more years,” Ryal said. “You never know when you’re going to show up and have a good spring training, have a good season. That might carry you an extra couple years.
“But at the same time you’re also clocking hours on the baseball field for maybe a coaching job later, a scouting job, a coordinating job, whatever you possibly want to project yourself to be after baseball. I think more importantly there’s a lot of life after baseball.”
If nothing else, Barden and Ryal will at least have plenty of amusing stories to tell people about one another.
“I don’t know if I have any (stories),” Ryal said. “With Brian, time is not a concern until it’s an issue, if that makes any sense. Brian definitely has his own pace and his own mindset. He’s a procrastinator but at the same time I think he always has good intentions. He’s just as laid-back as they get. I think the worst part is he’s always there but you don’t know when he’s going to be there.”
Barden had at least one story to share.
“He’ll drive me crazy,” Barden said. “He’s anal about certain things. One day he got his hair cut in Sacramento and I thought it was fine. He’s home in the mirror looking at in the mirror going, ‘This side is longer than the other side!’ I said, ‘Dude, just push it down so it’s even.’ And he’s just like, ‘No, no, I’m going back … no, I’m going to go find a salon. Girls cut hair way better than guys!’”