One of the good things about being a sportswriter is the chance meetings with players and coaches from years past that occur when you least expect them.
On a family reunion in Tampa, Fla., this past weekend, one of the group activities was to go to a minor league baseball game. I settled in my seat, hot dog and cold beverage in hand, for the start of the game between the Dunedin Blue Jays and the Lakeland Flying Tigers of the Class A Florida State League.
Then, one of those pleasant surprises happened.
Seated behind the Lakeland dugout, I looked up after the top half of the first inning and the Flying Tigers third-base coach trotted back to the dugout and looked up and smiled. It was former N.C. State first baseman Andy Barkett, one of the most likeable players that I had a chance to meet over the years covering the Wolfpack.
We talked a couple of times between innings during the game and then met afterward to catch up. Barkett, who was signed by the Texas Rangers in 1995 as a non-drafted free agent after a standout career for the Wolfpack, is the Flying Tigers manager for the second consecutive year.
He had an 11-year professional career, spending almost most of it in the minor leagues. Barkett did make it to the majors in 2001 with the Pirates, hitting .304 with one homer in 17 games. He retired after the 2005 season and began managing in the minors in 2007 in the Tigers organization.
Barkett lives in Orlando and has three children. Now he's trying to climb the ladder again, this time as a manager.
"I wanted to stay in the game," Barkett said. "The last two years managing in Lakeland have been great."
Barkett said he keeps up with the Wolfpack and stays in contact with coach Elliott Avent. Barkett was always one of my then-young son's favorite players when he played at State, and gave my son Ronnie an autographed bat that still is in the closet of my son's room.
Barkett asked about Ronnie, and I said he was a sportswriter like his dad. He laughed, saying that he remembered him well.
I'm not surprised. That's the type of people you meet in the game of baseball.
And, if you're lucky, you have a chance to run into them years later. When you least expect it.