Nationals reliever returns to majors after four years and the mother of all arm injuries

The Major League Baseball season has reached the point of September roster expansion and dozens of minor leagues around the country are realizing their childhood dream of finally making it to the big leagues.

And yet, the most inspiring story of them all might be a player who made his MLB debut more than five years ago.

Aaron Barrett returns to the majors

Here, you can see Washington Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett being told by Double-A Harrisburg manager Matt LeCroy that he will be called up to the majors and getting swarmed by his teammates.

Videos like this never fail to inspire joy, but Barrett’s backstory makes it even better.

Behind LeCroy’s tears, Barrett’s teammates’ elation and the pitcher’s own quiet smile is a story of constant rehab and agonizing pain, both physical and mental.

Rewind back to 2015, and Barrett is struggling to replicate a strong rookie year. He has a 4.60 ERA, but is still racking up strikeouts (28.5 percent strikeout rate) and showing promise. His elbow has bothered him for months though, and it’s finally determined he needs the dreaded Tommy John surgery.

That procedure knocks out Barrett for the entire 2016 season. The next year, Barrett’s story goes from sad to horrific as he rehabs in Florida, when the right-hander somehow breaks his humerus, the bone between your elbow and shoulder, while throwing a baseball.

The Washington Post’s recounting of the injury is surreal:

[Barrett] was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, pitching a simulated game at the Nationals’ spring training complex in Viera, Fla., when players conditioning a few fields over heard a crack so loud they thought they heard a gunshot. It came from Barrett’s arm, an injury so devastating it left fellow pitcher Mat Latos vomiting in the dugout after he saw it.

Barrett, in what he called the most excruciating pain of his life, ran around the mound holding his elbow until trainer Jon Kotredes could corral him, hurry him to a private room off the training room and figure out what to do.

September 08 2014: Washington Nationals relief pitcher Aaron Barrett (30) during a MLB gameagainst the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park, in Washington D.C. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Few MLB players have ever had to deal with anything like Aaron Barrett's arm injury. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Per the Post, emergency room doctors reportedly laughed when told Barrett suffered the injury while pitching, as they didn’t think breaking an arm that badly by throwing a baseball was possible. Famed surgeon James Andrews, who drilled 16 metal screws into Barrett’s bone to pull it back together, thought Barrett must have been hit by a car.

After months of agonizing recovery and warnings that another break could ruin his arm in ways outside his baseball career, Barrett returned to the mound in 2018... with the Nationals’ Low-A affiliate in Auburn, NY. At the age of 30, Barrett was essentially restarting his journey through the minors.

Barrett posted a strong 1.74 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 20.2 innings that season, then followed that up with a 2.75 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 52.1 innings this year in Double-A. And now, he’s received the call he’s been waiting years for.

No matter what Barrett does from here, the simple act of getting back to the majors makes him a winner.

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