His friends and family members in Houston still talk about it and wonder whether it was the wisest of moves. So do several of his old college teammates.
But Aja Barto, the Spokane Indians’ physically gifted right fielder, refuses to second-guess the decision he made three years ago to accept a scholarship from Tulane University in New Orleans and play baseball there rather than sign a major league contract with the Philadelphia Phillies right out of high school.
“It was never about the money, or anything like that,” said Barto, who was the Phillies’ 14th-round pick in the 2006 draft. “I had my eye set on going to college since I was young, because I always wanted something to fall back on.
“There’s a lot more to life than baseball, so I wanted to go and get my degree.”
As things turned out, that didn’t happen.
Barto left Tulane after three disappointing seasons – one of which was shortened by the broken hand he suffered after getting hit by a pitch during his freshman year – in hopes of getting drafted again. But this time, all 30 major league franchises took a pass on his potential, and he ended up signing a free-agent contract with the Indians’ parent club, the Texas Rangers.
“Obviously, the (2008) draft didn’t work out like I hoped it would,” Barto said. “And I was never really satisfied with the career I had at Tulane. But I don’t regret going there, and I’d never turn back the experiences it gave me.”
Of the three seasons he spent with the Green Wave, his most productive came as a sophomore in 2007 when he played in 56 games and led the team in home runs (six), triples (four) and slugging percentage (.451), despite batting just .269.
As a junior during spring 2008, he started 48 of 50 games and batted .274 with three home runs and 19 RBIs.
He decided to leave school later that spring, partly because he felt like he never quite fit in at Tulane, and partly because of a promise he made to himself after deciding not to sign with the Phillies in summer 2006.
“I never really found that sense of being comfortable in that environment down there,” said the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Barto, whose older brother Aryan was an all-conference center on Tulane’s football team. “Plus, I had made myself a promise that I would go to school and then after my junior year take the opportunity to turn pro, if it presented itself.
“I guess by then I felt I was ready.”
So Barto left Tulane still 36 credits short of obtaining his bachelor’s in communications.
He still plans to get his diploma, after riding this professional baseball thing as long as he can.
After Friday night’s finale of a three-game series against the Yakima Bears in Yakima, Barto was hitting a team-high .347 (17 for 49) and leading the Indians with three home runs, 12 RBIs and three triples.
He will try to build on those impressive early-season numbers when the Indians return to Avista Stadium tonight at 6:30 to open a five-game Northwest League series against the Vancouver Canadians.
“I’m not really feeling all that great (at the plate) right now,” said Barto, who has struck out 18 times. “I’m just trying to survive out there, help my team in any way I can and just have fun.
“Things never really did work out as planned at Tulane. I wish it would have been better, but going there gave me a new kind of opportunity, and I’m in a better spot now.”
It could have been better, though, considering his brother had signed during the off-season to play for the Spokane Shock of the arenafootball2 league but was traded before the season started to the Manchester (N.H.) Wolves.
“Going to college together seemed to bring us closer, and it would have been nice to see him here again,” Barto said. “It’s funny how things work out, because my host mom with the Indians is a huge Shock fan, and we laughed when I told her how close my brother came to playing for them.
“It’s funny how things work out.”