CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Like many kids, he dreamed of playing professional baseball. He got as far as the minor leagues for the Texas Rangers. Everybody knows the odds of making it to the big leagues aren't good.
The likelihood of a boy from Mission Hollow making it in the business world isn't good either. But he's hitting this ball out of the park.
At 53, building on post-baseball experience in hospital promotion, Jeff Barnes runs a growing Teays Valley marketing firm, The Barnes Agency. Impressive clients include Marshall University and The Greenbrier.
Like his burly cousin, Olympic gold-medalist Randy Barnes, he's a bearish bulk of a man. A soft heart beats behind that imposing frame.
He chokes up when he mentions his mentor, the late UC baseball coach Tom Nozica.
Tears glisten when he talks about his son and the dire diagnosis that benched his dream of a future in sports. Despite worrisome odds, a delicate eight-hour operation has restored him.
Beating those odds felt like winning a World Series.
"I was raised up Mission Hollow, what they now call South Park Road. It's behind the old Watt Powell Park in Kanawha City.
"They say what makes a person is determined in many ways by experiences they have early in life. I had a wonderful childhood. Mission Hollow was a special place. Everybody left their doors open. We had a playground where all the kids congregated. Neighbors did things together.
"People didn't have a lot. My parents wanted something better for me. They focused all their efforts on making sure I had every opportunity to be successful. They moved out of Mission Hollow when I was about 7.
"I picked up new friends, but it was difficult to let go of my old friends. That has carried me throughout life, the diversity of my friends.
"My father taught me to play baseball. My first venture into baseball was in a T-ball league. My mother tells how I slept with my glove under my head and a baseball in my hand.
"My dream when I was 7 was to play professional ball. Everything I did was toward that goal. I played at Charleston High, but I would not consider myself a great baseball player there. After my senior year, Tom Nozica, a coach at what was then Morris Harvey College, saw something in me and gave me an opportunity.
"It was still Morris Harvey the year I started. The next year, it became the University of Charleston.
"I was a pitcher. Tom Nozica never gave pitchers an opportunity to play a position, but he played me on first base. I was drafted by Texas as a pitcher, but I was ranked in the top 10 nationally in home runs, batting average and RBIs.
"When I was notified that I'd been drafted, my first question was, 'As what?' I didn't know if I was going to be drafted as a pitcher or power-hitting first baseman.
"I am forever grateful to Tom Nozica for the opportunity he gave me to live my dream. I was inducted into their Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, the first baseball player. If Tom had not afforded me the chance to play college baseball, I would never have had a chance to play professionally.
"We lost Tom last year. The family asked me to perform his eulogy at Appalachian Power Park. That was a tremendous honor.
"I knew getting drafted didn't guarantee you a ticket to play professional baseball. It's a long climb to make it all the way through the farm system to the major leagues.
"I lasted with the Rangers until 1985 when they drafted nine pitchers. To accommodate those bonuses, they had to let go of personnel. I had the opportunity to experience something I had dreamed of all my life, so I have no regrets.
"At first, it was very painful. I moved back home with my parents, and I was lost. I had no idea what to do with my life. I thought I would be playing major league baseball one day.
"My parents allowed me to sulk and pout and mourn, and then my dad walked in one day and said, 'Enough. Your life is far from over. It's time to suck it up and move on.'