Mitch Harris, a 2008 St. Louis Cardinals draft pick, spoke to Redbird Rants two weeks ago. Here is what he had to say.
Daniel Solzman: Mitch, thanks for joining Redbird Rants today. How are things treating you this offseason?
Mitch Harris: Doing good, doing good. I’m just anxious to finally have a full season this year. Everything’s going well. I’ve been training just as hard as I’ve ever been. My arm feels good. I’m excited to see what generally helps and does once, you know, spring training actually starts and get some hitters in there. We’ll see. Everything so far is going great.
Daniel Solzman: I want to thank you for your service to our country. After a long road following the Cardinals drafting you in 2008, you are going to be reporting for spring training. How does it feel to be able to finally start your pro career?
Mitch Harris: It’s a long time coming but it’s something that I can’t even describe. Not too many guys my age get this opportunity to say it. I’ve already had a career of being in the military and navy. It was a great four years and eight months. I got to see 30-plus countries in three deployments and now getting to go fulfill my childhood dream and pursue Major League Baseball so it’s a blast. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to a long time. I’m anxious to see what’s next.
Daniel Solzman: How did Navy baseball coach Paul Kostacopoulos get you ready for the next level?
Mitch Harris: Coach Kosty as well as the pitching coach there, Coach Scott Friedholm, who is now a coach at Boston College—they came in here my sophomore year and basically revamped the entire baseball…everything that to do with ball, they just redid it. They told basically the whole team that nobody had a position. My freshman year, I only threw 15 innings. So he said, “Here’s what’s going to happen. Nobody has a spot. Everybody’s going to be trying out for positions. We need pitchers.”
Long story short, my freshman year at the academy, I lost about 20 pounds because every freshman at the academy does go through a rigorous training that first year. I lost about 20 pounds and come back for my sophomore year when they got there, I put all that good weight back on and started throwing harder. Then, all of a sudden, I was a pitcher. I came from 15 innings my freshman year to our number one guy sophomore year and basically, he formed me into who I am now. In high school, I was just your average pitcher. They helped me to get a couple pitches and exactly how to pitch. I give them a lot of credit in how and what type of pitcher I am today.
Daniel Solzman: The Braves drafted you in June 2007, prior to your senior year. How did it feel to be the first Navy baseball player drafted before your senior season?
Mitch Harris: It felt awesome. It was an honor to be able to say that it was something that had never happened before. It was something that we knew was coming down the road and we wanted to kind of get prepared for it that next year. Like I told Atlanta that out of the Academy—you can’t leave the Academy and come back and start back up where you left off. If you leave the Academy and come back, you have to start all over from square one. So I told the Braves that I wouldn’t sign and that I would finish my time at the Academy. I wanted to graduate there. I knew that I had to serve some time. At the time, there was all kind of talks like how long would I serve and whatnot with the professional contract. I knew there were going to be some changes later on down the line but I didn’t want to take the chance of not graduating from the Naval Academy as that meant a lot to me and so I declined to go with them. I knew there would be another chance later on down the road.
Daniel Solzman: You are from North Carolina so I have to ask: UNC or Duke?
Mitch Harris: Duke. Duke all the way.
Daniel Solzman: Do you have any favorite memories of Stan Musial?
Mitch Harris: I don’t, and I wish I did. You can read so much about a person but I wish I could have seen that era of ball but the amount of respect you see and hear about Stan The Man is something that you can only hope to be in that position someday.
Daniel Solzman: Who was your favorite player growing up?
Mitch Harris: John Smoltz. I was always a Braves fan growing up. I was basically raised outside of Atlanta and the Braves were always my team. John Smoltz was always the big, strong hard-throwing pitcher, and that’s the guy I looked up to. Plus, he was the great baseball player and a good role model on and off the field. John Smoltz was by far my favorite player.
Daniel Solzman: Thanks again for joining Redbird Rants and hope to see you wearing the Birds on the Bat at Busch sooner rather than later!
Mitch Harris: Thanks. It was a pleasure.