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Barrett a first of his kind

Barrett a first of his kind

Alex Barrett answers the telephone one evening at his Hawaii home, and on the other end of the line is a stranger who wants to talk to him about his baseball career.

Barrett is shocked, yet he is excited, too. After all, he's 59 now, and baseball seems like a lifetime ago. He's almost forgotten about the game and the role it's played in his life.

So why, he wonders to himself, is anybody else curious about his playing days?

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The answer is simple, really. The interest in Alex Barrett grows out of the fact that he's the answer to an Astros trivia question: Who is the club's first-ever draft pick?

Well, Alex Barrett, of course.

First of his kind

In the inaugural First-Year Player Draft of 1965, the Astros used their No. 1 pick on Barrett, the fourth player taken overall. They picked him ahead of 809 other players, including future Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver.

Unlike those players, though, Barrett left no legacy in the big leagues. He had no hits. No at-bats. No September callup. Not even a Moonlight Graham -- like moment in the field for a half inning.

Barrett's seven-year stint in the Minors isn't a "Field of Dreams" tale that comes to life. His story is one, some people might say, about a dream that ends half-fulfilled.

Barrett might disagree.

"I look back on my experience as just a great opportunity," he said. "I wouldn't trade it for anything. I don't feel bad for it because I probably tried too hard. That's a mistake I can live with."

His life changed dramatically one day near the end of his senior year of high school, he says. That date has since escaped Barrett, but it was June 8, 1965.

Maybe Barrett was in history class that morning. Or, perhaps, he was getting ready to read Shakespeare or Dickens in an English class.

Decades later, Barrett can't recall specifically. All he remembers is that Atwater High (Calif.) coach Fran Oneto called him into the gymnasium that morning to deliver some life-altering news.

"[Oneto] pulled me out of class at about 10:00 a.m. and told me I had been drafted," Barrett says.

Indeed, he had been. The Astros selected Barrett, an 18-year-old shortstop from Atwater, Calif., just behind Rick Monday, Les Rohr and Joe Coleman.

Even though Barrett never made the bigs like those players, he got a taste of the Major League treatment. The day Barrett was drafted, the club scheduled a flight for him to Houston to meet team officials at the Astrodome and introduce him to the fans.

"Probably the only real perk I had that the other guys didn't have was [the Astros] flew me into Houston," Barrett says. "They probably were going to introduce me or something, but my plane was late. It was a little bit late.

"They may have had plans. But somebody told me they put my name up on the scoreboard. But I wasn't there when that happened."

He still enjoyed that first trip to the Astrodome. He visited the team's clubhouse and met Hall of Famer Nellie Fox, an Astros coach during the '65 season.

"He said hello to me, walked me out and showed me the ballpark," Barrett says. "I was like, 'Wow, that was really something.'"

He stayed in Houston for a couple of days and took batting practice at the Dome, which had opened just two months earlier. So Barrett, at least, was one of the first players to hit indoors and field ground balls on Astroturf.

Later in his career, Barrett played in the Dome once more.

"It was kind of a special workout," Barrett says. "They wanted to take a look at me. I did well during that time. It was basically a simulated game in the Astrodome, so there was live pitching and things.

"It wasn't like a game, but they just wanted to keep an eye on us."

Moving on and out

The fun with the big-league club lasted only so long, though. Shortly after he was drafted, the Astros sent Barrett to Coco, Fla., where he joined the Rookie Level team in the Florida State League.

In Coco, Barrett played with outfielder Keith Lampard, the club's second-round pick. Eventually, Barrett moved along to other Minor League towns until he settled in Triple-A Oklahoma City in the early 1970s.

"I had a great two weeks at Oklahoma City when I got called up there, hitting home runs, batting over .300," Barrett says. "But I didn't have a good year, never had a really good year."

After struggling in the Minors, Barrett quietly exited the game in '72. He finished up college at Fresno State and then studied law at the University of San Diego. He became an attorney in 1980.

Now, Barrett practices law in Hawaii, where he works with that state's Department of the Attorney General.

But he only discovered the island because of a trip he made during his baseball career to play the Hawaii Islanders, a Triple-A team in the Pacific Coast League.

"I got a one-way ticket and started managing a bank," Barrett says.

He even had his own real estate company for about 20 years. Few of his colleagues know about his playing days, though.

"Some people play ball, something like that happens to them and they just stay in it," Barrett says. "I'm talking about things that I never even think about."

Kevin Yanik is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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