Harris carries friend's memory with him into 1st postseason

October 11th, 2022
The cloud necklace Michael Harris II wears to honor Michael Cloud

ATLANTA -- Michael Harris II and Michael Cloud Jr. shared a brotherly bond as they grew up in the same suburban Atlanta neighborhood. They played sports, created funny videos and hoped to become veterinarians after attending Louisiana State University.

“I feel like he was the older brother I never had,” Harris said.

Everything seemed right before Cloud asked Harris to go to a nearby baseball field to take some swings July 28, 2016. This was a normal exchange between the friends. But it would be the last conversation they shared.

“When [Harris] asked to go, I wouldn’t let him go because he had [an] open house at school,” Harris’ mother LaTaucha Harris said. “We found out the news coming back from [the] open house that day. Otherwise, he would have been with him.”

As they returned from the open house at Stockbridge High School, Michael Harris and his mother learned Cloud had been killed in an auto accident while driving to the baseball field. The fun-loving 17-year-old died on impact when the driver’s side of his Honda Accord was hit by a Chevy Trailblazer.

“I broke the news to [Michael Harris], and he just stared,” Harris’ mother said. “He was quiet. It was like he couldn’t move.”

Six years later, Harris carries his friend’s memory with him every time he steps on a baseball field. The 21-year-old Atlanta center fielder will be wearing a cloud necklace and a bracelet with Cloud’s name on it when the Braves welcome either the Cardinals or Phillies to Truist Park to begin a National League Division Series on Tuesday. This is the same necklace and bracelet he wore throughout the regular season.

LaTaucha Harris and Michael Harris Sr. will be present to see their son play his first postseason game. So, too will Cloud’s mother, Candy Smalls. Whether Harris was playing for Stockbridge High, the Rome Braves or the defending World Series champs, Smalls has been there to support her “second son.”

“Every game that I’m at, she’s there,” LaTaucha Harris said. “She cooks for him. She’s all in. When we went to the World Series festivities last year, she was there. Anything [Michael Harris] does, she’s there. You would think she is his real mom. She gets very emotional. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with her son, but she is genuinely happy for him. She knows it and she loves baseball.”

Michael Harris II with Michael Cloud’s mother Candy Smalls

After her son passed away, Smalls gave Harris a pair of Cloud’s yellow tennis shoes, which have since been placed in a lighted case.

Michael Cloud's shoes given to Michael Harris II by Cloud's mother Candy Smalls

Harris has had multiple gloves made that are inscribed with Cloud’s name. He has also written #LLM (Long Live Mike) on many of his hats and gloves to honor his deceased friend.

One of Michael Harris II's gloves with Michael Cloud’s name on it

Harris’ thoughts of going to LSU evaporated when they only wanted him as a pitcher. His thoughts of being a two-way player at Texas Tech were erased when the Braves took him in the third round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He played a couple months of Minor League ball that summer and then benefited from being around big league talent while at the Braves’ alternate training site in 2020, when COVID canceled the Minor League season.

Though he totaled just 197 games at the Minor League level, Harris found instant and long-standing success at the big league level. He became the favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award while hitting .297 with 19 homers, 20 stolen bases and a .853 OPS. The 4.8 fWAR (Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement Model) he produced over 114 games ranks as the second-highest mark by a Braves rookie, trailing only the 4.9 fWAR Rico Carty produced over 133 games in 1964.

Michael Harris II has written #LLM (Long Live Mike) on many of his hats and gloves to honor his deceased friend

“Mike [Harris] is just remembering where he came from,” said Kevin Whitley, who was Stockbridge High’s head football coach before taking his current role as an assistant coach at Georgia Southern. “The whole Henry County community is proud of him.”

This has been a tremendous year for Harris, who received an eight-year, $72 million extension Aug. 16, just 2 1/2 months after being promoted from Double-A to the Majors. It would have been great to share all of this with Cloud. But he can at least be comforted in knowing he did have the big brother he always wanted.

“I know he’s proud because he would always brag on me,” Harris said. “I just want to live out both of our dreams for him.”