3/7/2013 4:30 P.M. ET
Barnes' tattoos tell stories of faith and family
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Each one tells a story. Each one has a meaning. Brandon Barnes wears them with pride and welcomes the opportunity to talk about them with anyone who's curious. But these are more than simply conversation starters.
The tattoos that cover both of Barnes' arms and don portions of his legs, back and chest set him apart from the rest of his teammates. While tattoos are certainly not an unfamiliar site on professional athletes these days, Barnes takes it to the extreme.
"Some people collect art at their house, and I collect it on my body," said Barnes, a 26-year-old outfielder who made his Major League debut last year. "I don't just put something ridiculous on my body to put it on my body."
Barnes' love affair with tattoos began when he was 16 years old and had his last name written in red on his left arm. He was hooked on ink. He got a few more when he turned 18, and suddenly both his arms were covered. Barnes estimates he has 25 tattoos, but couldn't provide an estimate on how much money he's spent.
"Definitely too much," he joked. "I couldn't put a number on it, but it's enough money."
Barnes talks about his tattoos with pride. They serve as a window into his life, which is dominated by his faith and his family. It's definitely a different sort of message than you would expect from someone with so many tattoos.
"The main thing is my religion and being able to share the faith by people coming up to me and asking me 'What does that mean on your arm and what's that a picture of?'" Barnes said. "It's an opening for me to share my faith."
The images on Barnes' right arm are in black and white, including an image of the Virgin Mary, a dove, a cherub and praying hands. On his upper back is the phrase, "In God We Trust." In color on his left arm are a koi fish, his name, some tribal images and flowers. The word "Irish" is written down his spine, a tribute to his heritage.
"My family my whole life has been telling me, 'You're never going to get a job with all those tattoos,'" Barnes said. "It's funny, my wife [Shawn] got me a T-shirt this Christmas that said, 'Tattooed and employed.' It was pretty cool.
"Everybody supports me in my family. Whatever other people want to think, they can think until they meet me and realize the kind of guy I am, and I'm going to have someone's back. It's all mainly to glorify God."
Barnes grew up playing football and baseball in California and dropped baseball as a senior in high school to focus on football. He had a few scholarship offers that fell through, and it wasn't until he tried out for a junior college baseball team did he have visions of playing pro baseball.
"When I went out there, I had no idea about the Draft or professional baseball," he said. "You see it on TV, but you have no idea of how it works behind the scenes of the Draft. I played to have fun and ended up getting drafted in the sixth round by the Astros. It's definitely a blessing in disguise."
Drafted in 2005, Barnes has been in the organization longer than just about any other player. The 2013 season will mark his ninth with the Astros, and he made his Major League debut last year and hit .204 with one homer, seven RBIs and a handful of highlight-reel catches in 43 games.
He went to Venezuela in the offseason to work at getting better pitches to hit and drilled two homers early in the spring. The Astros like his speed and his defense, and he knows he's going to have to have a good spring to win a spot ahead of guys like J.D. Martinez, Fernando Martinez and Rick Ankiel.
"I'm just going out there to help the team win every day, whether it's with my legs or coming off the bench to play defense or starting the game," Barnes said. "It's always good at the end of the spring to make the team, but I'm not looking at that right now. I'm going out there, working every day and playing my game."