Monte Harrison, NBA's LaVine chat on IG 

February 28th, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- Marlins outfield prospect wants to grow the game of baseball in the Black community by showing players having just as much fun and exuding just as much swag as in the other sports leagues. A multisport athlete in high school, Harrison chose baseball over football and basketball.

On Saturday night, Harrison hosted the latest edition of MLB's #BHM IG LIVE series, chatting with two-time NBA Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine. Harrison's older brother, Shaquille, was a teammate of LaVine from 2018-20 with the Chicago Bulls.

LaVine, who was in Tampa, Fla., to face the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, chatted with Harrison about his love of baseball -- "I'm always watching MLB Network" -- and his days of playing America's pastime. In ninth grade, LaVine passed on an All-Star baseball game in Los Angeles to play an in-house rotary summer league contest because his dad told him to pick one sport.

"I was better at baseball than basketball growing up," LaVine said. "Now I'm not like you, but that was my first sport. ... [Basketball] just fit me better, and I think I picked the right one. I think I'd have been OK in baseball, but I think I'm a little bit better at basketball."

Harrison extended a batting practice invitation to LaVine should COVID-19 restrictions ease up over the course of the year. LaVine, who once took BP with Kris Bryant and the Cubs, wants to show off his center-field skills when the Marlins visit Wrigley Field. Harrison went as far as to say LaVine should "come to the 305," alluding to Miami's area code and the NBA's Heat.

Later in the 40-minute Instagram session, Cleveland pitcher Triston McKenzie hopped on to talk about Spring Training and to troll Harrison and Jazz Chisholm, Miami's fourth-ranked prospect, about facing them in the big leagues. McKenzie appeared relaxed the evening before being scheduled to pitch Sunday's Cactus League opener against the Reds.

"I mean, this is the same way over here," said McKenzie, Cleveland's No. 3 prospect, about the club's mentality in 2021. "But we're going to win."

When Harrison wasn't getting shout-outs from teammates Nasim Nunez (Miami's No. 20 prospect) and ace Sandy Alcantara, he answered questions from fans.

Among the highlights:

Best MLB player: Mookie Betts
Favorite players growing up: Matt Kemp, Andrew McCutchen
MLB players with the most swag: Javier Báez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jack Flaherty
All-time best MLB player: Barry Bonds, who appeared on MLB's Instagram with the Mets' Dominic Smith last week.

The last question Harrison answered was about how to increase the percentage of Black players in MLB. His response harkened back to what drives him the most, his mother and the people in his hometown of Kansas City, Mo. Over the offseason, Harrison got involved with The Players Alliance, a nonprofit organization started last summer with the involvement of 150 current and former players. It has donated more than $41.7 million to Black communities across the country. In January, Harrison took part in the Pull Up Neighbor Tour in Miami, where Major Leaguers from the area handed out baseball equipment, PPE products and food to underserved communities.

Harrison, who grew up in the inner city, attended Lee's Summit West High School in the suburbs. He hopes to set up a future event in Kansas City to give back. Aside from his work with The Players Alliance, Harrison has partnered on an initiative with Martin Luther King III and the Drum Major Institute.

"That's a big deal to me, just to know that I do come from that situation and I understand what those kids go through," Harrison said earlier on Saturday via Zoom. "There are so many times that I had to use other people's bats and all that type of stuff because you didn't have your own stuff, so the simple fact that I can donate and give back to those kids -- they don't realize what's going on, but being a grown man now knowing that those little things are going to change those kids' lives to be able to better themselves, put themselves in a better position.

"And for me personally, I don't see it as a baseball thing. I just want for them to be able to see anything that you want to be -- you can be a doctor, you can be a lawyer, you can be a baseball player, a basketball player, it doesn't matter to me.

" ... People don't realize when you grow up in a certain situation and you've known that your whole life ever since you were a baby, it's hard to come up out of there, and there's a lot of prayer and a lot of dedication and hard work to be able to come out of that."

Earlier in the day, Marlins manager Don Mattingly had complimentary words for Harrison, who made his MLB debut last season. The club reached the postseason for the first time in 17 years in 2020, and the rookie played a part with his aggressive baserunning.

"Everything he does is extremely dynamic, and I love everything about Monte," Mattingly said on Zoom. "This guy wants to be a star. He plays like that. He's a guy you love as a fan to watch play."