photo: Mitch Harris (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Editor’s note: This is the next installment of our series in which Derek Shore catches up with former St. Louis Cardinals players, both major and minor leaguers. Many more interviews are coming soon, but to follow all of them, you must be a member The Cardinal Nation. Join today!
Mitch Harris is one of the great stories of St. Louis Cardinals baseball.
From graduating from the Naval Academy in 2008, Harris served in the United States Navy for four years, eight months and eight days, earning the rank of Lieutenant. He was also drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the 2008 draft.
After serving his time in the Navy, Harris became the first graduate from the Naval Academy to graduate and pitch in the big-leagues in over 90 years.
But he endured his share of trials and tribulations before making his major-league debut in 2015.
From not being able to condition his arm while in service to returning to baseball and throwing 80 mph in a big-league spring training game, Harris’ story is a tribute to his hard work and dedication.
In this edition of “Where are they now Cardinals?”, Harris discusses his service in the Navy, his time with St. Louis and where he is now.
Derek Shore: Mitch, I have a variety of subjects I’d like to talk about, but let’s start with your career with the Cardinals. Now that you’ve been out of the game for a few years now, how do you look back on your time in the organization?
Mitch Harris: “For me, it was an absolute honor to wear the Birds on the Bat. For them to give me an opportunity after everything I’ve gone through, they are always going to have a special place in my heart just because they are the organization that allowed me to fulfill that dream.
“They gave me that shot. It was an honor to play for them. Looking back at the overall career, I think everybody would say when they are done, they would have loved to have played longer. The takeaway for me is we’re just proud that we did it the right way and we accomplished it.
“Man, of course, there are some things I would change both on and off the field. But ideally, I’m proud of what we did and accomplished. I’ve got no regrets.”
DS: Do you still get goosebumps thinking about being the first graduate from the Naval Academy to pitch in the big-leagues in over 90 years?
MH: “Yeah, of course. Even from that, people point out the difference of having to serve first and then go play. It’s something I don’t take lightly and something I’m very proud of. I wouldn’t say it gives me chills. It’s something I don’t think about often, when I do and am reminded of it – it’s an honor to think that’s something I get to tell my kids and grandkids.”
DS: Is baseball out of your system? How much do you miss playing?
MH: “Baseball will never be out of my system. I love it. I miss it. I also know that this dad bod cannot maintain the rigors of baseball life. I’m enjoying being a dad. I’m enjoying the new line of work I’m in. I still am around the game because of the line of work that I’m in.
“Now, I can kind of see it from both perspectives. I’m really having a lot of fun.”
DS: Where are you at with the military? Are you completely done?
MH: “Yes. I am completely out.”
DS: Some who were at the Naval Academy in various sports were allowed to bypass their service to go play professional sports. Was that frustrating for you?
MH: “It definitely was. The frustrating part was trying to let the higher-ups know, I wanted it to work out to where I could do both. I don’t think that point ever got across because I was willing to do literally anything to be able to play and serve.
“Obviously, we would have had to get creative to see what that looked like. But then to see them just blatantly let people out – that was the frustrating thing for me because I was basically saying, ‘I’m willing to both serve and play,’
“That would have been difficult enough, but the fact that I wanted to make sure that I could still do both, was important to me. We just couldn’t make that work.”
DS: What was the experience like keeping your arm in shape during your time in service?
MH: “I have to be honest and frank with you – I didn’t. I kept my body in the best shape as I could knowing when I had the opportunity – I could work on my arm. You just can’t keep your arm in shape when you are on a ship and deployed. You can only throw on the flight deck so many times and you can only get long toss to a certain length.
“Basically, I just told myself, ‘If I just stay in great shape that when the opportunity presents itself, I knew I didn’t have to worry about my body breaking down.’ I could really push the arm back to what I knew it could do.”
DS: After serving those five years in the Navy, I remember watching you in a big-league game in spring training. The Cardinals brought you in and you were just coming back. You were throwing about 80 miles per hour. Were there ever any doubts coming back playing baseball and even reaching the highest level?
MH: “Oh, of course. I think with the first year or so coming in max-effort 82 or 83 – realizing I’m 10 mph from what I used to throw – that was very disheartening and disappointing. But it was also a challenge to figure out, ‘What am I made of here? Can I really get back to what I know is there? And can I prove to the people that doubted I can do this?’
“There were definitely times when I thought I wasn’t progressing like I wanted and not living up to the expectations I have for myself. I was definitely nervous a few times, but I didn’t give up. I wanted to make sure I was told to go home, not that I choose to go home.
“On the worst days, I told myself, ‘Tomorrow is another day. I’m going to show up to the park the next day.’ That’s what we did. Fortunately enough, we did that enough to where the arm finally turned the corner. We were able to really progress about the second or third year.”
DS: By the time you earned the call-up to the big-leagues with St. Louis, were you nervous in your big-league debut with your background and all that?
MH: “I get that question a lot. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I think the difference was I knew how to control the nerves. It was definitely new scenery for me, but having gone through the things I have gone through up to that point, I understood how to control that nervousness and utilize that for good, not detriment.
“I tried to take that nervous energy and use that to propel my talents and efforts in everything I could to focus on my job at hand.”
DS: How much did life change for you after you made your debut and had success with the Cardinals?
MH: “Personally, really not a whole lot. In terms of notoriety and things of that nature, it definitely changed a little bit. I also didn’t have a long career, so it wasn’t like I was walking down the street and people would stop you. I think it definitely opened doors in terms of what I was going to do next.
“I think down the road it may lead to some speaking, a possible book and movie stuff that has been talked about. Things of that nature have changed. It has brought some opportunities. Other than that, that’s kind of it.”
DS: What is the latest with the movie and book situation?
MH: “The movie piece, we had a guy approach us and asked if we were interested in allowing that to run its course and to see about the possibility of it taking off. I’m kind of stepped away from that to let it go the direction it wants to go. If they need me, I will get involved. Otherwise, I’ve kind of backed off.
“The book is all me in terms of I have control of everything. We should see a book proposal within the next few weeks, meaning we will be taking it to publishers probably within the next month or so. I’m excited about that.
“My thing is I just want to get the story out there. Not just the one you can just pick up on Google, but the one you can see behind closed doors and understand not only my mindset, but the struggles I went through on the field and off the field both physically and mentally. I think that can relate to a lot of people, especially now with what everybody is going through and what we go through on a daily basis or things in life in general.
“If I can inspire others or encourage others, that’s the whole point of it.”
DS: Do you feel like an inspiration when people tell you that?
MH: “I hope so. I think everyone wants to have a legacy. I think for me now that I have two young kids – I think back to what is everyone’s purpose? What is our why? I feel like God blessed me with a really awesome story. Something that is unique. And if I don’t use that for good, it’s just kind of wasted away.
“I try to think, ‘How can I utilize my story to encourage and impact others?’ That’s how the book came about. I thought about different ways to write it. What we are thinking about doing is telling a story, but also giving it a message as you’re reading that, ‘Man, this is just a normal guy that really got to do some interesting things.’
“But like everybody else, he goes through struggles and life challenges. And he has to overcome these things and has to face adversity. I want to talk about that and be very vulnerable and open about that. Hopefully as people read that and get the story, they are motivated, inspired and encouraged to accomplish whatever it is they are wanting to do. But they also understand along the way they are going to face trials and you are going to have to figure out how to handle that adversity.
“Hopefully, that is what the book can do and give people tools and ideas of how to combat that.”
DS: On Instagram, you released a statement in support of George Floyd and the situation with racism right now. What is your perspective on this and what is happening in the world today?
MH: “It’s funny. I’ve had a lot of conversations with people I’ve served with in the military recently and talking to them about perspective on things, one thing that just keeps coming up to me as I’m thinking about it all is compassion. You think about the Golden Rule and things of that nature. It’s frustrating to me when you sit back and think about life in general and how you treat people and how you want to be treated and how you want your family to be treated.
“The fact in 2020 we are still having a conversation about the color of people’s skin doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t understand how that’s still a topic. The fact that it’s a human being, who has a heart and has a soul. We should be compassionate to each other. If we have differences, we can stand up and say, ‘Let’s have a conversation on things we have differences about and let’s be adults and have those conversations.’
“To me, I don’t understand that. It’s the frustrating part that I just wish we can all come together and say, ‘Let’s have a dialogue.’ Until we do that, we are not going to see change. I think that is what is so nice to finally see is these higher-ups in police organizations actually stepping out to the crowd and saying, ‘Look, I’m not here to just be a barrier and stand in front of you. I want to have a dialogue. I want to have a conversation.’
“That’s great to see. We need more of that. That’s what my whole post was about. If we can be compassionate to each other and show respect and understanding other people are going to have a difference in opinion yet we can still coexist with each other and still love each other, that’s what it’s all about.”
DS: Now that you are out of baseball, what keeps you busy?
MH: “Having two kids under three right now definitely keeps us busy. Obviously, working as a financial adviser keeps me busy. I enjoy it. I have several clients that are still in baseball. It keeps me around the game. I’m anxious as anybody else to get this season started.
“Having nothing to do on a summer night was great initially, but man, it is frustrating now not being able to turn on a baseball game.”
DS: Do you still keep in contact with some of your former Cardinals teammates?
MH: “I do. And it’s great to keep in touch with those guys. Again, several of those are clients. It’s nice to stay involved and be of service however I can to some of those guys. It’s awesome to keep those relationships. I think that’s what I miss most about is the clubhouse piece and the brotherhood.
“That is the part you will never really replicate no matter what you do. That is the part I probably miss most.”
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