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BASEBALL: Tony Barnette playing his third season in Japan and excelling
Tony Barnette has found a home away from home in the crowded streets of Tokyo. The Thomas Jefferson High School graduate is currently in the midst of his third season playing professional baseball with the Yakult Tokyo Swallows of Japan's Central League.
Barnette, 27, originally signed a one-year deal with the Swallows on Jan. 7, 2010, after a steady rise through the minor league system of the Arizona Diamondbacks' organization.
The Diamondbacks drafted the right-handed pitcher in the 10th-round in 2006 following a stellar career at Arizona State University. He started out in rookie ball in 2006, pitched in the Single-A Midwest League in 2007, the Double-A Southern League in ‘08 and spent the entire 2009 season playing for the Reno Aces of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Barnette finished 14-8 with a 5.79 earned-run average for Reno before inking with the Yakult Swallows during the offseason.
This is easily Barnette's best season in Japan. He is currently working as the Swallows' closer during the early part of the year. He has appeared in a total of eight games for Tokyo and has five saves and one win.
In his 7 2/3 innings of work, Barnette has not allowed a run and has four strikeouts. He has walked only one and given up only four hits.
It's a far cry from how Barnette's journey to Japan began. In 2010, he was just 4-5 with a 5.99 ERA. He gave up 99 hits in 79 innings and struck out 70, mostly as a starter.
Barnette was eventually released by the Swallows after the season and he thought his Japan experiment was over.
But due to a variety of reasons, Barnette was re-signed by the Swallows on Jan. 12, 2011, for a second shot. The contract included a club option for 2012, which the Swallows picked up during the offseason. The one-year extension is worth 58 million yen ($718,330 dollars).
Last season, Barnette made the move into the Swallows' bullpen and had an impressive year. He turned into one of the best set-up relievers in the league, notching 22 holds and two saves and had a solid 2.68 ERA in 48 games. He allowed only 43 hits in 47 innings pitched and struck out 54.
After graduating from TJ in 2002, Barnette moved on to pitch at Central Arizona Community College before a two-year stint at Arizona State, where he pitched at the 2005 College World Series.
The Swallows put Barnette and his wife, Hillary in a two-bedroom apartment in the Tokyo's bustling Shinjuku district.