BY JUSTIN LADA
During his playing career, Lake County Captains pitching coach Jeff Harris wore many different hats in every sense of the phrase.
The 6’0 190lb right hander played with three different MLB organizations (Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians) and played in the independent league, the Western Baseball League, as well as stints in Taiwan and China.
Now here, in his second season as the Captains coach and his fourth year in the Cleveland Indians organization, Harris has found a baseball home and is really making an impact.
43 games into the Midwest League schedule, the Captains pitching staff holds a 3.27 team ERA, tied for third in the league. It’s no surprise that when the Captains were 4-13 at one point, manager Dave Wallace said that the pitching was still the backbone of the team and continues to be now that they are well within range of making a first half, playoff run, thanks to a lot of hard work and a great clubhouse.
That mantra of hard work and “never taking a day off”, as Harris said he never did in his career and still doesn’t as a coach, is what’s driving this pitching staff back to success after the 10 game losing streak.
“These guys all pull for each other”, Harris said of the pitching staff and the locker room in general, right now.
“Nothing in this game comes easy, I always had to work hard. You make your own opportunities, you have to grind it out and prepare for the moment”, Harris said of the kind of message he sends to his pitchers day in and out.
There can be no doubts about how valuable of a teacher Harris is, as he says he is able to use his experience playing all over the map.
“I played a lot different places, held a lot of different roles at different levels can help me relate to these guys a lot better”, Harris said of drawing on his career path as a teaching tool.
One big thing at the level the Captains play at (Full season Low A) is having a roster full of players from different backgrounds. Many players signed out of Latin American countries spend a good chunk of time at this level as they try to learn the language as well as how to play the game.
That brings Harris’ talents into the equation again. Another reason he fits so well on this staff and at this level is that throughout his playing career Harris said he learned Spanish, which helps him during visits to the mound and going over game plans with his pitchers with no confusion.
When Harris’ wasn’t playing baseball, in the off-season he held jobs as a construction worker, did some plumbing and as a landscaper, so Harris’ message about working hard to stay in the game is well received.
All the hard work Harris has put in to land a baseball home has paid off and says he is enjoying the honor of putting on the uniform and showing up to the ballpark every day.
“I always tell these guys they have the best job in the world and I have the second best”, Harris says of coaching a talented group of young pitchers.
The Captains have really leveled the playing field with their pitching after the rough start.
Each guy on the staff brings something different with their pitching styles but Harris says that the philosophy is pretty much the same across the board, getting ahead of hitters and a strong emphasis on fastball command.
Harris’ message of hard work and not taking a day off has really come through on the field.
Just an example of the success this pitching staff is having this season:
Cody Anderson (6-4 220) a 14th round pick in 2011: 4-2 2.05 in seven starts, 39 strikes outs in 44 innings pitched. He’s a big guy and can bring it at around 94 mph, and has gotten Harris’ and the organization’s importance on fastball command.
Elvis Araujo (6-7 245) from Venezuela is 1-4 with a 2.40 in 45 innings with 41 strikeouts.
Joe Colon (6-1 204) from Puerto Rico is 4-4 with a 2.92 ERA and has a 1.76 groundout rate with a brilliant sinking fastball.
Felix Sterling (6-2 240) from the Dominican Republic is 2-2 with a 2.85 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 47.1 innings this season.
Getting players to execute game plans and remember things that are pounded into their heads day after day can be a tough thing at this level, as most players are still finding out who they are as players as well as what kind of preparation it takes to handle the grind, but if anyone is capable of teaching these young pitchers this, there might not be a better candidate that Jeff Harris.
Jeff’s grind it out and workman like approach doesn’t just apply to the pitcher’s mound, he also takes that philosopy to the links, where he says his biggest non-baseball hobby is golf, where he has to work hard on his game as well and seems to keep a good natured rivalry with his fellow coaches, hitting coach and jack-of-all trades Jim Rickon and Wallace.
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POSTED 05/21/2012 23:10