Harris' life-long dream of reaching Majors comes true
WASHINGTON -- Under the shadow of the Washington Navy Yard and approximately 30 miles from the United States Naval Academy from which he graduated, Mitch Harris added another title to his name on Tuesday. He is already a lieutenant. Now, he is also a Major Leaguer.
A day after learning from his Triple-A manager that he had been called up to the big leagues, Harris joined the Cardinals in Washington. The fact that the summons brought him back to the nation's capital was noted by many, though general manager John Mozeliak emphasized that this wasn't merely about filling a narrative.
With the Cardinals embarking on a stretch of 20 games in 20 days and outfielder Peter Bourjos away on paternity leave, the Cardinals chose to add an extra arm to the 'pen. Harris, who had been saving games for the Triple-A team, was next in line.
"This is a kid that we had our eyes on all through spring, so this isn't all about his service and what he did in the Navy," manager Mike Matheny said. "This is about what he's been able to do as a ballplayer."
It was the 29-year-old's story, however, that generated a buzz at Nationals Park on his first day. The volume of media requests led the Cardinals to borrow the Nationals' news conference room for about 10 minutes before the game.
John Abbamondi, an assistant general manager when the Cardinals drafted Harris in 2008 and former U.S. Navy flight officer, took a break from his responsibilities with the National Basketball Association to travel in for the day. Harris estimated he'd have "upwards of 20" other family and friends in the stands, some of whom are armed forces members living locally. Among them was the commanding officer Harris reported to when he served on the USS Ponce.
It was on the USS Ponce, and later, the USS Carr, that Harris would find opportunities to play catch on the ship deck. It was the only baseball activity he could manage during his five years of service time. Most of the time, he tossed with a cook, who had grown up playing baseball in the Dominican Republic.
"I was focused in keeping my body in the best shape I could, so that when my deployment was over, I could really push my arm to get back into baseball shape," Harris said.
But did he really believe while deployed to the Persian Gulf, South America and Russia that a day like Tuesday would ever come?
"There were times when I doubted, but when you have a dream, if you tell yourself you're not going to be able to do it, you're setting yourself up for failure," said Harris, who rejoined the Cardinals in February 2013 after he was discharged from active duty. "I told myself the whole time that there was going to be a time when I was going to give myself a chance to do this. … I'm human. There were definitely days when I thought there was no shot, there was no chance I was going to do this. But here we are."
Added Mozeliak: "Everybody was pulling for him and wanted it to work, but in the end, he had to prove it was going to work. And he did."
Harris' stay this time may be brief, as Bourjos will rejoin the team in Milwaukee on Friday. Matheny is hopeful of getting Harris an appearance before then.