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LOUISVILLE – It would be hard to imagine a Kentucky fan being inducted into the University of Louisville Athletic Hall of Fame.
But Saturday night, Tommy Barnes was standing near mid-field ot Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, along with football greats Ted Washington and Roman Oben, being introduced to the Louisville homecoming crowd as one of the Class of 2009.
Not bad for a guy who admits to being a Wildcat basketball fan growing up.
But baseball was the choice for Barnes, who coached the sport and worked with two different churches in Anderson County for many years.
Barnes recently returned to his hometown of Frankfort after selling his Anderson County home to help pay for mounting medical bills brought on by a fight against an aggressive form of cancer.
“It's nice to be appreciated and that someone remembers what you did,” Barnes said in a recent interview.
Barnes played baseball from 1991 to 1993 for the Cardinals and is still the program's all-time hits leader with 287 and owns the longest hitting streak in the program's history, 25 games.. When his eligibility ended, Barnes also had the Louisville records for at bats and assists. He was second in doubles, fourth in triples and third in batting average. A shortstop, he was a two-time All-Metro Conference selection.
He's still in the program's Top 10 in at bats, doubles, triples, stolen bases, and batting average. Barnes said that record-setting hitting streak could have been longer, if not for being hit on the hand by Kentucky pitcher Rodney Henderson. He nursed the hand, but went hitless in a game at Tennessee. “What I remember about that game is that Todd Helton (a Tennessee alum now known as the first baseman for the Colorado Rockies) hit a home run off the scoreboard in Knoxville that day.”
Barnes, who played baseball for one year at Georgetown College before transferring, admits that his main reason for choosing Louisville 20 years ago was financial.
At Georgetown, the baseball grant was meager and Barnes says he could no longer afford to attend the school. He looked to Kentucky, but was told he would have to accept the role of a preferred walk-on and pay his own way. “As soon as I made the Louisville team, I was given some (scholarship) money,” Barnes said with a smile. “It was the cheapest school in the state.”
Now, his blood is red all the way.
“I still pull for Kentucky,” Barnes says, “but not when they are playing Louisville.”
At Louisville, Barnes was part of an offensive machine that led the nation in home runs in 1991 and 1992.
But baseball was not the only place that Barnes had his hand on Cardinal athletics. “When I was there, they were looking for help in the sports information department,” Barnes remembers.
He took a class in the field and became a self-described “go-fer.” Eventually, Barnes became the public address announcer for volleyball and helped the legendary John Tong in announcing women's basketball.
Since leaving U of L, Barnes has remained close to the school and was greeting many friends during the Cardinals' homecoming win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday night. And he's proud that after more than 15 years, no one has eclipsed his hit total. Chris Cates, who played on the 2007 team that made the College World Series, got within 12, but Barnes laughs when asked if he was pulling for Cates to pass him.
“Not really,” he said. “I would have been all right with it, though.”
Now, Barnes is only the sixth baseball only inductee into the Hall and will be remembered alongside other great Louisville names like Wes Unseld, Darrell Griffith, Denny Crum and Johnny Unitas.
“You don't think of a baseball player in the U of L Hall of Fame,” Barnes said. “It's hard to see myself in the same league as Johnny Unitas.”
E-mail John Herndon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update on Tommy Barnes
Tommy Barnes was the subject of a front page story in the Aug. 19 edition of The Anderson News, entitled “Cancer Sucks.” Barnes is scheduled to undergo major surgery at the University of Cincinnati hospital on Thursday, Oct. 15. According to Barnes' wife, Lindsay, the operation will entail removing the cancerous mass, then flushing his organs with a heated chemotherapy drug. He is expected to spend 2-3 days in the Intensive Care Unit, then spend 7-10 days in the hospital for recovery.
“Right now the surgery gives him the best possible chance for survival and they feel that being a relatively healthy 39-year-old will give him the most favorable outcome. Truthfully I pray that God just gives us a miracle, I pray they open him up and it's all gone, the surgeons have to do nothing. But if it doesn't work that way I pray that God would use this surgeon in a mighty way and remove this awful disease and tumor so that Tom could get back to a cancer-free life,” Lindsay Barnes said in a message from her Facebook account.