Harrison enjoying retirement ahead of award
Left-hander will be recognized by Rangers before FanFest in Dallas
ARLINGTON -- Matt and Meghan Harrison spend one day a week volunteering at a North Carolina animal rescue shelter.
"She is the shift leader, and I'm cleaning up dog poop," Harrison said. "You can tell which one is having all the fun."
Life is not all that bad for Harrison, the former All-Star left-hander who will be honored next Friday at the Texas Rangers Awards Banquet as the 2017 winner of the Mark Holtz Alumni Award. He is living happily in Creekmore, N.C., with his wife, daughter Addie (5), son Easten (2) and five dogs. Apparently, the Harrisons are the shelter's best customers.
"We are in the process of building a new house," Harrison said by phone. "We put in a big garden and there is a pond on the property, so I'm building a pier for that. I'm staying busy. I'm doing more now than when I was playing baseball.
"The garden is really good. The green beans did well. The black-eyed peas and the butter beans, the squash and cucumbers did well. We gave away much of it to people around us and to family. I just enjoy being outdoors and staying active."
He and Meghan will be at the award dinner next Friday at Gilley's Dallas and Globe Life Park at FanFest on Saturday. Tickets for both are still available at rangers.com.
The award allows the Rangers to recognize a player who was respected and admired during his time in Texas. He was a big part of the Rangers' success in 2010-12 before having the back problems that brought his career to an unfortunate end.
"Obviously a lot of ups and downs," Harrison said. "A good rookie season, a couple of years that didn't go my way, then I started to figure things out. There were a couple of good years going to the World Series (2011) and All-Star Game ('12). That really helped my confidence, but as soon as I started figuring things out, my back started hurting me.
"I still have a lot of good memories from there, a lot of good guys, and I really enjoyed working with the staff. Meghan and I love Texas. It really felt like home."
Harrison, acquired from the Braves in the memorable Mark Teixeira trade on July 31, 2007, won nine games as a rookie in '08. He battled injuries for the next two years, moved to the bullpen in '10 and was not on the postseason roster. But Harrison came back strong as a starter in '11, winning 14 games. The Rangers won his first two postseason starts against the Rays in the American League Division Series and the Tigers in the AL Championship Series.
Harrison had two disappointing starts in the World Series, but in 2012, he went 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA. He was named an All-Star and Rangers Pitcher of the Year.
"If there was a highlight, it would have to be pitching in the World Series," Harrison said. "Being left off the playoff roster the year before really ate at me a lot. That was a tough offseason. I was determined not to let it happen again. I became a lot more of a student of the game."
The Rangers signed Harrison to a five-year, $55 million contract in Spring Training of 2013, but that's when the back trouble began. He had surgery by Dr. Drew Dossett for a herniated disk in 2013 and spinal fusion surgery in 2014. He made three starts for the Rangers in 2015 and then was involved in another huge trade on July 31.
The Rangers sent Harrison and five Minor Leaguers to the Phillies for pitchers Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman. Harrison was included to balance out the final component of the trade.
"It was a weird couple of days," Harrison said. "Very unexpected. I knew what I had going on, and the Phillies did, too. I guess it was a matter of business and getting me off the books."
Harrison was determined to pitch for the Phillies, but the back was only getting worse.
"I was trying to do everything I could to come back, but every time I ramped things up, it got worse," Harrison said. "It was the same stuff coming back. Obviously, I wasn't the same pitcher [as I was] before the surgery, but it wasn't about me making adjustments with less velocity. I didn't know where the ball was going. I had almost no feeling in the lower half."
Harrison went back to Dossett and another herniated disk was discovered. It was also ascertained that another spinal fusion surgery would eventually be required. Harrison's back was not going to hold up and his pitching days were finished. He finished with 135 career appearances, 103 of which were starts.
"I tried," Harrison said. "I can hold my head up high, because I did everything I could. If I had just walked away, I couldn't live with myself."
The Phillies officially released him at the end of this past season after settling with the insurance company.
"I still miss the game," Harrison said. "I still get goosebumps, especially when I'm watching the playoffs. But I don't miss what I was doing to my body."
Harrison said he might become involved in baseball again, maybe locally in North Carolina giving pitching instructions or helping coach the local high school team. For now, though, he is content to be with his family, tend the garden and clean up dog poop.
"A month ago my beard was so long, you wouldn't have recognized me," Harrison said.
Rangers fans will recognize him next weekend.