ANAHEIM -- The Brandon Barnes cheering section figures to occupy a large chunk of Angel Stadium this weekend, when the Astros hit town for a three-game series against their new American League West rivals.
The series will serve as a homecoming for Houston outfielder Barnes, who was born in nearby Orange, Calif., and raised in Anaheim, just five blocks from the ballpark. It's nothing short of a dream come true for a kid who used to ride his bike to the ballpark to watch the Angels.
"Just getting to the big leagues has been a dream," Barnes said, "but to be able to play in my hometown, where I grew up and I've always dreamed of playing, is going to be really special."
Barnes, 26, has been in the Astros' organization longer than any current player, getting drafted out of Cypress College in California in 2005 and plodding his way through the Minor Leagues, overcoming doubters and defying odds along the way. He made his Major League debut last year and won over fans with the reckless outfield play that resulted in a handful of highlight-reel catches, and he made the club as a backup outfielder after a terrific spring. Now, Barnes' life comes full circle.
"We've always lived in the area in Anaheim, and I played Little League Baseball, Pop Warner [football], went to school there from kindergarten through high school," Barnes said. "I've always been in Anaheim. It's going to be really special to be able to cherish the moment with my family and friends and people I haven't seen since high school."
Barnes expects to have about 30 members of his family at Friday's game, including mother Marta Azizian and stepfather Shant Azizian; father Mike Barnes and stepmother Linda Barnes; sister Brianna Barnes; stepbrothers Thomas French and Steven Mosqueda; and grandparents Mary Corcoran, Frank Corcoran and Margie Horne. Several aunts, uncles and cousins will also be in tow, along with his wife, Shawn, and daughter, Kenadie. Shawn's family is from the area, too.
"Plus guys that I have just been getting text messages from in high school," Barnes said. "I would expect a couple of hundred people there."
Barnes played football and baseball at Katella High School, which is barely two miles from Angel Stadium, and was known more for his football skills than baseball. He quit baseball in high school, and when college football scholarship offers dried up, he started playing again in college.
"Where I'm from, I was always known as a football guy," Barnes said. "Everybody knows I played baseball, but I was always known for what I did on the football field. But I think it's going to be cool for people who really didn't realize I could play baseball. They knew I had the talent to play, but never thought I would be coming home to play in Angel Stadium."
Barnes' favorite player growing up was high-flying outfielder Jim Edmonds, who played center field with the same kind of aggressiveness that Barnes has patterned his game. He lived and died with the 2002 World Series championship team -- Edmonds had moved on to St. Louis by that time -- and skipped school to watch the victory parade.
"I lived on a main street where the stadium is and there were cars stopped everywhere," Barnes said. "It was fun to see. We went to the parade the next week and played a little hooky at school to go watch the parade. It was a special moment in Anaheim."
Watching your childhood team celebrate a World Series championship is certainly a memorable event, but getting to play against them -- in the same ballpark you cheered for them growing up -- is the moment of a lifetime.
"The biggest thing me and my buddies always wanted to do was be a professional athlete and be able to play in that stadium," Barnes said. "To realize my dream is coming true is really, really cool."