CHARLOTTESVILLE — When Eastern Hancock’s Tom Barton threw a no-hitter last season against Blue River Valley, he was on top of the world. However, just days later, Barton’s reality would take a cold turn.
In a complete game effort with seven strikeouts, the 6-foot-3 right hander had just thrown the game of this life. It was Wednesday.
After the weekend, on Monday, life threw right back, tossing Barton the biggest curveball of his athletics career.
A sharp pain near the back of his right elbow before the Royals’ game with Greenfield-Central warranted a visit to Methodist Hospital, where a doctor would reveal a deep bone bruise.
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“It just felt different than normal,” Barton said. “I had a tingling feeling in the back of my elbow, which I’ve never felt before. My arm kind of felt dead at that spot, sort of limp.”
Barton, who has 123 career strikeouts, tossed a one-hitter one game before the shutout of Blue River Valley. Coming off a 76-strikeout sophomore campaign, Barton was in prime form, but his immediate pitching future was in question.
Barton would try to pitch again nearly a month later against Frankton — after the doctor’s recommended rest — but lasted just one inning.
Back to the hospital it was, where he learned his pitching days may be coming to a close. Given the option of rest or cortisone shots, Barton chose the former.
But how long will it take to heal? Barton, who appeared healthy again until another incident at the end of March this year, is still waiting to find out as he’s thrown just one inning this season.
Rather than wait around, though, the teammate usually known for his presence on the mound has shifted his focus to the batter’s box.
It’s working out quite well for the Eastern Hancock senior, too, as Barton currently leads Hancock County in batting average (.424), hits (25) and RBIs (25) for the 9-8 Royals.
As the team’s No. 4 hitter in the lineup, though, Barton rarely hits for power. He has just one extra base hit (double) this season in 59 at-bats.
“Tom knows exactly what type of hitter he is,” Eastern Hancock head coach Chad Coughenour said earlier this season after Barton drove in two runs in an 11-0 win against Tri. “He doesn’t try to do too much.”
In 14 of the team’s 17 games this season, Barton has registered at least one hit including a season-high four against Mid-Hoosier Conference foe Hauser on April 13. Against Triton Central on April 23, he knocked in four runs off three hits in a 14-3 victory, which was a part of the Royals’ season best six-game winning streak.
“I have just been seeing the ball well, and I don’t try to hit home runs,” Barton said. “The guys ahead of me have been getting on, that’s a credit to them. I just try to place it between the infield and outfield. We talk at Eastern Hancock about doing our job and that’s mine. My job is to get them in from there.”
Once on pace to potentially land on a small college roster, Barton, who was throwing in the high 70s (miles per hour) as a junior, plans to focus on academics in college at Indiana Wesleyan University. And he said he’s OK with that; he’s found his calling.
“I would like to play in college, but I didn’t feel like that was the best decision,” Barton said. “I want to become a youth minister.”
As a part of the school’s workforce program, Barton currently interns at the Park Chapel Christian Church in Greenfield.
And with a little faith, Barton would find himself back on the mound when it matters most for Eastern Hancock — the postseason.
Tom Barton, Eastern Hancock Baseball
Future Plans: Indiana Wesleyan University (Youth Ministry)
Position: First base, relief pitcher
Favorite MLB Team: Pittsburgh Pirates
Favorite MLB Player: Bryce Harper
Favorite Athlete: LeBron James
Favorite Movie: Dark Knight
Favorite Food: Mozzi’s Potato Pizza
Season Statistics: .424 batting average, 25 hits, 25 RBIs