Twins benefiting from ‘Big Stick’ on pitcher’s mound
Malik Barrington trying to earn a spot on Twins roster with Spring Training performances.
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Fans occasionally have brushes with fame, even in a little town like Dickinson. The Badlands Big Sticks have occasionally hosted ballplayers who move on to The Show with regional teams like the Minnesota Twins, and Malik Barrington is making it easy for fans who follow not only the Big Sticks, but also the Twins — and he has a better-than-average shot at earning a spot on the Minnesota roster for the 2023 season.
Barrington was most recently with the Big Sticks during the 2019-20 seasons, and he remembers his time in Dickinson fondly. He and a few of his teammates were able to stay in the area through arrangements with fans who house athletes while they play for the Big Sticks, and according to Barrington it created a home feel that marks the Expedition League unique.
“I was happy to be there and the whole town kinda knew of me a little bit,” Barrington said. “My host-mom, Joan Koenig, was probably the best host-mom I've ever had. I told everybody when I went back to school that (in Dickinson) it feels like I'm a professional ballplayer already, because you've got kids wanting your autograph and families that buy your jersey and know all your stats.
He added, "They come out before every game and see you and welcome you into their homes. It's a great time in Dickinson for sure.”
The 25-year-old Jacksonville native stands at 6’2” and just under 240 pounds, so he has the potential to grow even further in the game and plenty of time to learn, but his development was almost stunted by the covid pandemic a few years ago. The ability to play in the Expedition League was timely for Barrington and important to his advancing in the game, he said.
"My second summer (in Dickinson) was one of the more crucial summers, just because they were the only team, really in the area and in the country — because that's when covid hit — that were still playing summer ball," Barrington said. "So, my school season (at Albany State University in Georgia) got canceled that year and I hadn't played in three months or so, and that really helped me out to go back there and play that summer."
Barrington had to talk his mother, Mary, into his returning to the area during the pandemic, "because I had to go play ball, and they were more-than-willing to have me back."
The organization also remembers Barrington just as fondly, and General Manager Jason Watson said he was an enthusiastic member of the team and community during his stay.
“He’s one of the nicest guys, too, and he’s very humble,” Watson said. “When he was with the Big Sticks, he would go to kids camps and was always out there teaching the kids and after games – whenever kids were around – he would interact with them and would be that person that, if you make it to The Show someday, they will remember him when he played for the Big Sticks because they have his autograph.
“That was one really good thing that Malik did was always be there for all the fans with an autograph or to talk with them."
What also can be reflected upon are his contributions to the team during his stay here in Southwest North Dakota, and Barrington’s stats during that time frame were solid. Not only did the Big Sticks finish first in the Expedition League’s Lewis Division during both of his seasons, at 48-20 in the championship 2019 season and 52-29 in 2020, but Barrington was a significant contributor on the mound during that time.
Barrington appeared in 15 games of the 2019 season and started 10, going 6-2 with a 3.79 earned run average and a team-leading 85 strikeouts on 59 innings-pitched. In 2020, he started six games and went 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA and another team-lead in Ks with 42 on 26 innings-pitched.
“He’s really grown in the game,” Watson said. “When he first got to us, he was in the upper-80s and kinda close to 87 to 88 mph on his fastball, and he played for us for two years. And after he came back the next year he was low-90s and I think now he’s sitting in the 92-94 range.
“His work-ethic is what I think really stands out with him, and he’s just a bulldog; he’s always doing something that’s going to better himself.”
Meanwhile, Barrington recently earned an honorable mention as Minor League pitcher of the year in 2022 for the Twins organization last season while playing for Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids, appearing in 33 games with a 3.61 ERA and an 11.5 strikeouts-over-9 innings average.
"It's going great, and as many people say, I'm living my dream," Barrington said. "This is something that I could never have imagined in my whole life, so I'm just happy to be here and I'm pitching well and my body feels good just getting ready for the season right now."
The Expedition League might only have been considered a summer league with a brief history that only dates back to 2015, but during that time there have been numerous current major leaguers – in addition to Barrington – on rosters and playing in The Show right now, including 3rd-baseman Austin Callahan of the Cincinnati Reds and outfielder Jacen Roberson of the Arizona Diamondbacks, both of whom are currently playing in Spring Training for their respective clubs. Regardless, the league was an excellent way for ballplayers to get some extra work and develop their craft. The Big Sticks moved to the Independence League after the dissolution of the Expedition League.
"The first summer there, I was new to summer ball and never played it in college, and I was just trying to have fun while trying to get some innings in and compete," Barrington said. "But in that second summer we got a new pitching coach at the time — Matt Hape — and he showed me a lot about the analytics of the game and was real knowledgeable about the game, and I tried to soak up as much knowledge from him as I could. He showed me a lot of good things that summer and I took that into my next year of school."
For more information about the Badlands Big Sticks, please call 701-483-7849 or visit the team at 606 12th Street W. in Dickinson or see them online at https://www.badlandsbigsticks.com/ , and for more information about the Minnesota Twins, please visit https://www.mlb.com/twins . For more information about the Expedition League, you can head to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expedition_League .