High School Sports

West Meck baseball star plays in game on same day father who inspired him passed away

West Mecklenburg junior pitcher, and shortstop, Tyler Barnes, sits in the dugout with teammate prior to playing South Mecklenburg at West Mecklenburg on Thursday April 6, 2017.
West Mecklenburg junior pitcher, and shortstop, Tyler Barnes, sits in the dugout with teammate prior to playing South Mecklenburg at West Mecklenburg on Thursday April 6, 2017. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Tyler Barnes played a high school baseball game the same day his father died. He said that’s what his father would’ve wanted.

“My mom told me that morning,” said Barnes, a junior shortstop at West Mecklenburg. “At first, it was unbelievable. I was like, ‘That can’t be true.’ But then, I came to my senses and I was not going to let it bring me down. I still wanted to make him proud. I know his favorite thing to do was to watch me play. I knew that’s what he would want me do to. So I was thinking, ‘Let’s play and make him proud.’”

Barnes got one hit in three at bats that night. West Mecklenburg lost to Berry 7-1, but no one around West Meck remembers that.

They just remember Barnes’ courage.

“I just found it astonishing he was able to play,” West Meck athletics director Vernon Hunter said. “I don’t think he’s missed a game since. He’s just a great kid.”

Barnes, 16, is also a rather large kid. At 6-4 and 200 pounds, he is a two-sport star at West Mecklenburg. In football last season, he played wide receiver. He caught 46 passes for 783 yards and 11 touchdowns for a team that finished 9-4 and reached the second round of the N.C. 4AA playoffs.

Hunter said while the college interest is just beginning, he expects Barnes to field several major college offers before the start of his senior year.

In baseball, he has an offer from N.C. Central and interest from several Division I and Division II schools. Naturally an outfielder, Barnes is playing shortstop and third base for the Hawks, hitting .474 with three home runs and nine RBIs. After a blistering start to his junior season, West Mecklenburg coaches say teams are often choosing to throw away from Barnes or to walk him.

“Tyler is a special player,” Hawks baseball coach Ramon Allen said. “He’s one of those gentlemen born with that ‘It’ factor that you only see once in a great while. To top everything off, with the passing of his father, the guy he looks to the most, he was very encouraging to his teammates and to us as coaches.

“He was his regular, upbeat self, given everything he was going through. He’s just a great young man, all the way ‘round, even before the tragic incident – and nothing’s changed since.”

Long-term health issues

Tylia and Travis Barnes, Tyler’s parents, moved to Charlotte from Maryland in 2008. Travis Barnes, the father, had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure when Tyler was 8 months old. Two years ago, Tylia Barnes said, her husband had a heart attack and never bounced back. Eventually, his kidneys failed.

In February, Travis Barnes had three hospital stays. He died March 24, nearly a month after he was admitted for the final time – after he went into cardiac arrest and his blood sugar dropped to dangerously low levels.

Travis Barnes died just before 7 a.m., four hours before he was to go his regular rehab appointment.

“I told him what was going on before I left for the hospital (before his father had died),” Tylia Barnes said. “I asked Tyler if he wanted to know what was happening. He said, ‘I don’t want to know until after my game.’”

By lunchtime, hours after his father had passed, Tyler texted his mother.

“Is dad alive?” he wrote.

Tylia Barnes told him she wasn’t going to speak to him via text. So they spoke on the phone.

“I said, ‘Are you sure you want to know?’” Tylia Barnes asked her son, and then delivered the news.

“I asked him if he wanted me to come and get him,” she said. “He said, ‘No, because I want to play.’”

‘He’s who motivated me’

Tylia Barnes called his coaches and asked them to monitor Tyler throughout the day, letting them know what was happening. Tyler and his father were always inseparable. Travis Barnes, according to his widow, was a “great athlete” in high school but he injured both of his knees. When Tyler showed good athletic ability in T-Ball, his father coached him, in football and baseball, until middle school.

“They did everything together,” Tylia Barnes said. “They always watched sports together and went to different games. (Sports) was the only conversation in our house. But because my husband had been sick for so long, I think Tyler was preparing himself emotionally for his dad’s death. He told me later, he knew before he left the house that morning that this was it. He said he wanted to make dad proud because they were two peas in a pod when it came to sports.”

And now, Tyler said he’ll keep playing as well as he can and as hard as he can for his father – like he always has.

“I definitely miss him,” Tyler said. “He was my biggest supporter. But through sports, I can still be with him, in a sense. He’s who motivated me to play and who motivates me, even now, to do good and grind hard.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr