Barnes keeps bases clean for Sussex Hamilton
Junior catcher named to 2014 All-Suburban team
A former catcher at Sussex Hamilton and then at Carroll University, Mike Schramek knows a thing or two about the art of the position, and Michael Barnes brings something to the table Schramek hasn't seen before.
In 2014, the junior backstop Barnes recorded 30 assists, including 27 putouts of runners leaning too far off a base or trying to steal. That put him second on the team in assists behind shortstop Trevor Wesline, an almost impossible feat for someone behind the dish.
A first-time selection to the All-Suburban baseball team, Barnes is perhaps as good a reader of body language as he is at simply playing baseball.
"Body mannerisms; that's all it really is," Schramek said. "When you have a guy that puts his head down … I know what half the catchers are looking for; they're looking for your nose to be down (on your way back to first). If you're not hustling, looking down, you're getting picked off. The only time I didn't throw was when guys were diligent about keeping their eyes on me."
Hamilton never had a runner picked off first all season. Opponents weren't as lucky. Barnes, in his third year with varsity, committed just one error and didn't focus solely on slowing down the running game.
"I've always been pretty good at throwing guys out," Barnes said. "This year, I really worked on blocking my pitches in the dirt, which is something I was never that good at growing up."
Barnes has considerable size for a catcher, but he's played the position since he was 12 and wasn't about to change positions under Schramek when he arrived on varsity a third of the way through his freshman season. It made him one of the elder statesmen on this year's Hamilton team, which overcame a 2-9 start to finish with a winning record and make a run to the sectional final against eventual state champion Brookfield Central.
"A lot of guys were pretty nervous at the start; their minds were still in trial mode where they think they can't make a mistake," Barnes said. "Once everybody knew their role, that's when things started to click."
For Barnes, it meant managing a pitching staff that included fellow juniors (but first-time varsity contributors) Alex Fischer and Tony Gammon, and both delivered down the stretch. Barnes calls all the pitches, joining the son of former Brewers pitcher Jerry Augustine, Matthew Augustine, as the only two catchers to perform that task under teams helmed by Schramek.
"That's something that he started doing last year, and that really speaks to his intellect as far as the game goes," Schramek said. "He really understands the game, understands how to utilize pitchers and whatever skill set they bring. He understands Alex has a good fastball and understands how to set up hitters. He makes sure they throw their other pitches for strikes, which is great for me because I don't really have the best angle as far as where pitchers are getting too much of the plate (on the bench). He's a good resource."
At the plate, Barnes batted in the No. 3 slot and hit .349 with a .457 on-base percentage.
"Last year I was disappointed (in my batting), and this year I worked hard in the winter and got a lot better," Barnes said. "It was more mechanics, just trying to get a little more power in my swing. I hit a lot more doubles this year than in the past."
Schramek expects even more improvement at the plate for Barnes.
"I've talked to some people that have interest in him as far as next level goes," he said. "He's got some mechanical flaws and things that don't look real good when you're talking about the mechanics, but the kid batted .350 in 112 at-bats and had 30 RBIs with just 37 hits. A lot of times when he's hitting the ball, he's pounding in runners. He has a knack, and that speaks to how competitive he is. I know as a coach, when he's trotting up to the batter's box, people are feeling good about things. He'll clutch up and do the things that need to be done."
The first-team All Conference choice in the Greater Metro has been around baseball his whole life, with parents John and Robbin both employed by the Milwaukee Brewers during his youth. Robbin still works in the organization's publications department. Michael recalled an 8-year-old birthday party at Helfaer Field, the Little League facility adjacent to the Brewers' home facility, Miller Park.
Barnes said he's now in the process of developing a workout video he can send along to college programs.
"The overriding thing when I talk about him is his work ethic and commitment," Schramek said. "He's committed to improve. He models for you anything and everything you would want out of a player. If you're trying to teach your underclassmen the right way, he's certainly the kid you'd point to."
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