Barnes' stepfather, Ray, the man who raised Jacob since he was a year old, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer of the lungs and brain just as Barnes was beginning his first Major League Spring Training camp. Ray passed away in late April.
Barnes left the Triple-A Colorado Springs team for more than a week to help his mother, who has physical limitations. Two weeks later, he left again, this time for a happy event. Barnes attended the birth of his first child, a daughter named Maisy.
Along the way, he navigated his professional obligations well enough to earn a callup to the Brewers, who promoted Barnes on Wednesday while placing reliever Michael Blazek on the disabled list with a right elbow impingement. Barnes posted a 1.21 ERA and held opponents to a .184 average despite playing home games in one of baseball's most hostile environments for pitchers.
• Crew places Blazek on DL with sore elbow
Asked about his performance in light of those major life events, Barnes said, "You have to separate it. It's something you just have to learn to do. It's your job."
Barnes is relatively new to the job. He played third base in college but converted to pitching for Florida Gulf Coast University, the same program that produced White Sox ace Chris Sale. Barnes' collegiate ERA approached 6.00, but the Brewers gambled on his arm strength when they made Barnes a 14th-round Draft pick in 2011.
"Jacob has been a guy who player development has gone really slow with," said Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who played a part in that development as a special assistant to the GM before taking over as manager last year. "He was drafted with a very good arm, but it's been a process taking that arm and developing it into a guy who gets outs."
Barnes struck out 84 batters in 75 innings at Double-A Biloxi last season, then made eight scoreless appearances in the Arizona Fall League. He is No. 29 on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top Brewers prospects.
There is a chance Barnes' stay will be short. Another reliever, Corey Knebel, should be ready to return from the disabled list early next week.
But on Thursday, while family, friends and representatives of his agency made their way to Philadelphia with hopes of seeing his Major League debut, Barnes was basking in the moment.
"It's amazing," he said. "Obviously, you work all your life for this goal, and when you get the news and you show up, it's an unbelievable feeling. It's better than what you expect, to tell you the honest truth."