After being reinstated by Major League Baseball following a suspension, Nationals catcher Tres Barrera is headed to the Dominican Republic this week to begin training camp for winter baseball. The 26-year-old will play for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League. The schedule calls for 30 games beginning on Nov. 15.
This is welcome news for Barrera, who just two and a half months ago thought his entire baseball career might be in jeopardy.
Barrera was suspended in late July for 80 games after testing positive for Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT), better known as the anabolic steroid Oral Turinabol. But the suspension was lifted at the end of the regular season. Barrera was taken off the restricted list on Oct. 9 and reinstated to the active roster.
Barrera filed a class action lawsuit against MLB in July against the commissioner’s office, two drug-testing laboratories endorsed by the league and one of its directors, claiming his test result was a false positive. The suspension was eventually trimmed to 60 games.
“My suspension is over,” Barrera said. “It was originally supposed to be 80 games. They just cut it to this season. We have all read the articles and the information that has been going on with this substance. The MLBPA has proposed on making a complete change going forward. Hopefully, MLB does the right thing and stops this from happening to somebody else. That’s what I was shooting for going through this whole process.”
The suspension was devastasting to Barrera. He relied on his wife, Lindsey, his family, close friends and the Nats to pull through. The feeling it gave him - and the potential negative perception he felt everyone else would have about him - took a toll on him mentally and physically.
“It was tough,” Barrera said. “I can’t lie and say I didn’t get to some dark places for a little bit. But I had a support system behind me that has kept me up, kept me going, kept me motivated. I’m just getting started with my career. I feel like I have a lot left in the tank and a lot to give not only to myself but to the organization. I’m just excited for the future. I’m glad it’s kind of getting behind me. Now I’m just worried about going to D.R. and playing some baseball.
“My wife, first and foremost,” Barrera said of Lindsey’s support and influence. “If she wasn’t around I don’t know think I would’ve made it through something like this. My family, my mom, my dad, my teammates, Sean Doolittle. Former major leaguer Chris Colabello, who went through this five years ago. He was kind of the first guy this happened to. I got a hold of him and he kind of just kept my head on straight. Different people that truly care.
“The people that care about you are really the only people that matter. That’s what really kept me going. You are going to hear a lot of outside noise, especially with everything that has gone on, but there are people that are right behind me and kept me going in the right direction. Just got to stay on it.”
Barrera said the Nationals remained in constant contact during his suspension to make sure he was OK.
“From teammates to the coaching staff to director of player development Mark Scialabba. They were really supportive,” he said. “That will always forever be in my heart and how supportive they were of me. I’m just excited to get back in 2021.”
Barrera said having baseball taken away from him for over two months was extremely difficult to endure. The No. 19 prospect in the Nats system was coming off a season in which he made his major league debut. This was supposed to be the season in which he took another step forward. That is why he is so happy to get back to playing again.
“It was definitely tough going through all that, mentally, physically, emotionally,” Barrera said. “It’s all taking steps in the right direction. I’m off the restricted list. I’m ready to be full go for spring training and headed down to the D.R. to play winter ball, get my at-bats in that I just wasn’t able to get this year. I’m ready to go from there.”
Barrera said his 2019 experience at the major league level was key to his growth as a player. The bonding that took place in the clubhouse and on the field continued into 2020 with spring training in February and March and summer training in July. It was at the end of summer camp that he found out he had tested positive and was suspended.
Doolittle, his good friend and teammate, took the news hard.
“That’s part of my job, getting to know those guys,” Barrera said of his relationship with Doolittle. “We became really close friends. One of my closest friends now to date. All those guys, from Henry Blanco to the whole staff. That whole locker room was something that we built friendships that go a little beyond baseball. That’s what hurt me even more not being able to be there. Kind of felt like I was letting them down. The role I would’ve had, I don’t know. I know I was going to make the team out of spring training 2.0, (but)I didn’t know if I would’ve been up or down.”
Now he has a shot to resume his baseball career at the pro level. That’s all he could ask for.
Barrera and his wife, who is expecting their first child in the coming months, will fly to the Dominican Republic today. Training camp for winter ball begins tomorrow.
“This is the first time the Nats wanted me to go play winter ball,” Barrera said. “I’m excited, man. I will be playing for the Leones del Escogido in the capital of the D.R. They say baseball there is fun. I’m excited to get out and compete again and get the blood flowing, get ready for spring training.”
Barrera will not be without some familiar faces this winter from the Nats organization. Nats second baseman Luis García will also be playing in the Dominican Winter League and manager Davey Martinez said he plans to be in the Dominican for a week to work with the Nats players. The Nats backstop says he hopes to play in most of the 30 scheduled games and build the at-bats he was denied this summer.
“That’s going to be a big key for me, learning more down there,” Barrera said. “We have a lot of Latin players in our game and in our organization. The more I can learn about them (the better). I am of Mexican descent, so the Mexican heritage and culture is a little different from the Dominican culture. I’m excited to go to D.R. and see how they live and learn the culture and just have fun.”