A Conversation with Max Harbuck

Mississippi State recently signed Hoover (AL) High School first baseman Ryan Harbuck to a baseball scholarship. Ryan is considered one of the top 18 baseball players in Alabama. Ryan also played defensive end for Hoover HS. I called Ryan Thursday night but was not able to talk to him. However, his dad, Max Harbuck, was kind enough to talk to me about Ryan. Here is our conversation.

[Normally, this article would be premium, but I'm posting it free so that those of you who are not premium subscribers will see what you are missing.-Gene]

What is Ryan's height and weight?
"He is 6-2 and 220 pounds."

He is described as a right-handed power-hitter in some circles. Would you describe him that way?
"Oh yeah, definitely. He hits with power to all parts of the field."

What were his stats as a junior?
"He hit .402 with 9 home runs last year. He hit in the three-hole. I think he had 40 RBIs and 10 to 12 stolen bases while weighing 225 pounds."

Do you know what his forty speed is?
"He ran a 4.75 forty."

I have him listed as playing first base. But I was also told that he plays third base.
"Yes, he played third some last year, but, of course, due to his injury he was only able to DH at first (this season). He is now playing first base all the time. As a junior, he played third base and pitched."

Tell me a little about his injury.
"He was a top-rated defensive end on the football team. He hurt his shoulder but he did not have to have surgery. He did have to rehab it for a while. He was not able to do much with it through February. His numbers will not be what they were last year due to that. He is working his way back. In fact, against Vestavia High School last Saturday, he hit a mammoth three-run homer. It kind of looked like the Ryan of old."

It must have been tough on him having to deal with the injury.
"Something that I have found amazing is how he handled the adversity (of the injured shoulder). We never saw outwardly the struggle that we knew he was having. Before the injury, he was the MVP of the Alabama High School North-South All-Star game. He drove in the winning run in both games. The expectations that he had coming off last season, earning MVP of the All-Star game, earning Super All-State in football, which included every classification in the entire state, were great. He is getting all kind of accolades, then he gets hurt. The bottom fell out. He was rehabing and the productivity wasn't there. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on him. He was embarrassed because he wasn't able to help his team. How he handled that, impressed his mother and I the most."

How long has he been back to the old Ryan?
"I would say the last three weeks."

Before I get to my next question about his performance the past three weeks, I've got another question. You mentioned that he played in an Alabama All-Star game as a junior. Normally, those games are for seniors. How did he get to play in that game as a junior?
"They couldn't get the graduating seniors to play in the game. Basically, they couldn't the participation that they wanted. So they decided to go with the top incoming seniors."

How has he done hitting-wise during the past three weeks?
"He really struggled the first part of the season. He doesn't strike out. He very, very seldom strikes out. What he was doing was just missing the ball. He was just hitting over the top of it. Although he has not been totally consistent, he has still been showing some power. Recently, he hit a home run foul, then he comes back two pitches later and hits one deep to right-field, also foul. Then he hits a shot in the gap in the same at-bat."

You mentioned that he has played first base, third base and pitched. Did Mississippi State recruit him primarily as a first baseman?
"What they told us is they need right-handed power right now. Depending on what happens with (Matthew) Brinson as far as the draft is concerned, he could compete with the other first basemen that they already have. Mostly, they recruited him for his power."

What did the coaches tell you guys about what they expect from him his freshman year?
"Ryan is not opposed to coming in and getting redshirted and learning the speed of the game at that level. The coaches said they don't put pressure on the players to be productive right off the bat. We liked that. He'll do the best he can and he will work hard. He understands that he will be the one who has to make it happen."

Tell me a little about his high school baseball career.
"Ryan started as a sophomore. In fact, as a sophomore, Ryan faced (Paul Maholm) who is from Germantown and hit one about 380 to dead centerfield and the guy caught it on the warning track. If he had pulled it either way, he would have hit a home run against (Maholm) when he was a senior. We faced a lot of D-I pitchers that year but remember him."

Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned that he played in the North-South All-Star baseball game this past summer. What other honors has he earned?
"He was named to the first team Super All-Metro (all school classifications) baseball team (Birmingham metropolitian area) and Honorable Mention All-State as a junior."

He is in a unique position because he is very good in two sports. Did he get recruited in football as well as baseball?
"He was getting some looks in football. He was recruited by Auburn in football. They talked to us quite a bit but we pretty much told everybody that he was going to play baseball. Coach Tuberville came to the high school and one of the position coaches were still trying to get him to come even though they knew he was going to play baseball. He asked him if he would consider doing both. We never got to the point where an offer was made."

A friend of his from his school said he has been a Mississippi State fan for a while. Is that correct?
"He is a very intelligent kid. He has a 4.0 grade point average. He is very knowledgeable and really studies the game. He knows Coach Polk's reputation. I have Coach Polk's book and used some of the information from it when I was coaching Ryan in youth baseball. (Ryan) is sharp enough to understand the tradition of Mississippi State baseball. He knows its tradition is to SEC baseball what Kentucky is to SEC basketball and what Alabama has been in SEC football. Coming out, he said the two schools he would consider were Auburn and Mississippi State. Of course, my wife and I are Auburn graduates. I played football there in the early 70's. We bled Orange and Blue."

You guys are die-hard Auburn fans, but he wound up at MSU. Tell me a little about how that happened?
"In January, he took his official visit (to MSU). Basically, when Coach Schoenrock called, he wanted us to come over for a game (during the season). We talked about that. Because Auburn had been recruiting Ryan and had made an offer, we told him we wanted to speed this up and get the decision out of the way. I called Coach Schoenrock and asked him what day could we come. We went over sometime in January. They went through the whole thing and we just came away knowing that (MSU) was the place where he wanted to go. We waited to see what Auburn's reaction was. After Auburn got in touch with us, we made the decision that Mississippi State was the place that he wanted to go. We still love Auburn, but as far as baseball is concerned, we know he is in the best possible place he can be. Everything just fell into place. We feel like the men who are going to be working with him are good men. We are just tickled to death for Ryan."

Tell me a little more about Ryan as a person.
"He wants to go into engineering. He wants to own his own construction company. He is already very entrepreneurial oriented. He has his lawn service business. He put together a brochure and went door to door.

"What is amazing is the time these kids put into athletics, especially football. We have played in the state finals the last two years in a row in the largest classification in the state of Alabama. We won the state championship in the year 2000 and last year came in as runnerup. These kids leave the house at a little after 6 o'clock every morning. They do all their weight and conditioning work before school, then they practice after school. They are putting in, literally, 12-hour days. They get home at 6 to 6:30. Tonight, he got home at 7:30 to a quarter to 8:00 from baseball practice. What amazes me is his work ethic. Because of his work ethic and the coaches that he will be working with, I am excited that he will be able to devote all of his time to baseball. I really think that his work ethic will really pay off for him in the future. His high school coach and (Samford coach) Tim Parenton told Coach Schoenrock that (Mississippi State) would look back in a couple of years and see that this was a great signing because they think he has a tremendous upside. I know they are getting a good kid who does his work and is a conscientious student."

How many more baseball games does he have this season?
"We have finished the regular series and have made it to the state playoffs and will be playing Wednesday in the first-round of the playoffs. We have been to the semi-finals the last two years. Hopefully, we can get to the finals this year."

Are you guys going to be able to make it over to any of the Mississippi State home baseball games?
"Oh yeah, we are going to try and come to the Ole Miss and Florida series. We have tried to come over to several of them but various things have kept us from coming over. Baseball kind of dictates what we can do."

Well, that should just about do it. Thanks for taking so much of your time to talk to me.
"I was more than happy to do it."

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

Gene's Page Top Stories