Cubs Barney puts dental career on hold to fulfill his Big League dreams

March 21, 2012
Stan Goff
Issue 7

Chicago Cubs fans have not had a lot to smile about this season, but rookie second baseman Darwin Barney has certainly done his part. The 25-year-old infielder has provided a number of clutch hits and dazzling plays in the field for the struggling Cubs and was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April after hitting .326 with 14 RBI. Dental background

Chicago Cubs fans have not had a lot to smile about this season, but rookie second baseman Darwin Barney has certainly done his part.

The 25-year-old infielder has provided a number of clutch hits and dazzling plays in the field for the struggling Cubs and was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April after hitting .326 with 14 RBI.

Dental background

But if this baseball gig does not pan out in the long run, Barney may end up putting smiles on the faces of dental patients. The Oregon native started his studies at Oregon State University with pre-med as a major and plans to follow his brother and father in becoming a dentist. But once the grind of traveling and playing shortstop for a College World Series championship caliber team became too much, he had to scale back his ambitious study load and put his dental school plans on hold.

“I went in pre-med and I was going to go into the pre-dental program,” said Barney, who won back-to-back College World Series titles in 2006 and 2007 at Oregon State. “I was scheduled for chemistry pre-med level classes that spring year my first season. Right then I was like okay, I probably won’t be able to handle this.”

The demands of working out and traveling with the baseball team were just too much to handle while also tackling the difficult studies required to become a dentist. Barney switched to a liberal studies degree and is one year shy of his degree.

“I didn’t think I could handle that while playing the season and with the team traveling so much. Chemistry isn’t easy and I’m not as talented and gifted like everyone else that is a dentist,” said Barney, who joked that he’s the “dumb jock of the family” that includes his sister Deanna, who was chosen for a selective nursing program at Yale.

But Barney, who not only surprised some by earning a spot on the Cubs roster this year but also turned in one of the team’s better first halves this season, still has an interest in dentistry and won’t rule out following in the footsteps of his father and older brother David. Those two family members work together in a general dental practice in Beaverton, Ore.

“I left my options open,” said Barney, who was drafted in the fourth round by Chicago in 2007. “It’s something that I still feel if this doesn’t work out I could go back and do. That was always part of my plan. If baseball doesn’t work out that is kind of what I want to fall back on.”

Family ties

Barney got both his interest in teeth and his impressive smile from his dad. “Dentistry is something I’m passionate about,” he said. “When I had my braces, I was wrapping floss around them and tightening them up and doing stuff like that. I like the process and I like working with teeth.

“Of course (my family) has a lot to do with it. Would I be as interested in dentistry if my dad was not a dentist? Probably not. It’s just one of those things, all of a sudden I was obsessed with teeth and it’s what I like. Now I’m lucky enough that my Dad is who he is and I have 10 porcelain veneers in my mouth right now. I’m a walking billboard for him.”

Strong start

His dental career may be on hold for some time, however, if he continues to play as well as he has so far in 2011. The Cubs were a disappointing 37-55 at the All-Star break, but Barney was hitting .306 in 75 games with 1 home run and 31 RBI. Even more impressive, the former college shortstop has been solid in the field at second base and heading into the final weekend of the first half his .368 average with runners in scoring position was sixth best in the National League.

Barney said hard work and preparation put him in position to succeed this summer, but he didn’t expect to be where he’s at so quickly.

“I took my family out to Arizona and I worked out there with the team trainers and I came in this spring ready to go,” said Barney, who was originally battling for a back-up shortstop position before winning the starting second base job for Chicago. “I played really well and wound up winning the second base job and it took off from there. It was pretty unexpected. It was nothing I didn’t see that could have happened, but it wasn’t anything that I thought was going to happen. Fortunately for me it worked out.”

Now is no time to rest on his laurels. In fact, the ballplayer draws comparisons to staying on top of his game with the way dentists need to stay on top of their evolving profession.

“It’s a process that never ends. It’s a lot like dentistry where there’s a lot of new techniques and philosophies that are happening all the time that you’ve got to keep up with,” he said.

“It’s a lot like how we are. We’ve got to keep getting better. We’ve got to keep making adjustments. To have that success you just can’t stay the same.”

Cubs fans are hoping Barney continues to shine on the field and for now leaves the work of delivering shiny smiles to other members of the Barney family.