Jeff Harris: Unsung But Not Unappreciated

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Growing up, Jeff Harris idolized guys like Mike Schmidt, Greg Maddux, and Doc Gooden, and through the years it's been his life-long dream to follow in their footsteps. So far this season, the San Antonio Missions are appreciating Harris' efforts, the 31-year-old journeyman pitcher who spent last season at Triple-A Tacoma.

Harris won a league championship in 2002 with the Western League Chico Heat, which was one of many independent league stops for Harris since 1995. As much as that championship means to him, the highlight of his career is signing a minor league contract with the Mariners last summer.

So far this season, fans are wondering why he wasn't signed earlier. He currently sports a 3.20 ERA with a 3-0 record on the hill.

For some people, playing minor league baseball for as long as Harris has would get frustrating, especially if for all those years you had not reached your ultimate goal. His ultimate goal, by nobody's surprise, is the same as most players in the minor leagues.

"I want to pitch in the big leagues someday," Harris said. "Each year I feel I've gotten better. There is so much to learn in baseball and I've kept learning, and growing as a pitcher."

Missions fans hope he keeps on improving all the way to the big club. For those who wonder how long he will keep the dream alive, Harris says, "I told myself that when I feel like I can't get anyone out, I'm not getting better, and not progressing as a pitcher then it's time to hang them up."

The Missions pitching staff is doing a great job of keeping the team in games, and Harris has been a important part of that success along with fellow starters Bobby Livingston, Thomas Oldham, Juan Sandoval and Ryan Rowland-Smith.

"We are doing it as a team, it's not just the the starters, it's the relievers that are contributing throughout," Missions manager Dave Brundage said.

As much as Brundage preached about "team success," he couldn't help but single out Harris for his tremendous work ethic and leadership role on the team.

"It's nice having experience on your ball club," said the Missions' skipper. "He is helping younger pitchers by leading by example because his work ethic is outstanding."

Realistically, no one can play the game forever but for now, baseball is getting the full attention and effort of Harris.

"I'm just having fun," said the right-hander. "It's the only thing I want to do right now."

As for life after pitching?

"The more I play the more I think about coaching," says Harris. "I've been around, and seen so much stuff that it would be a shame for me not to give some of that back."

If a coaching job came up down the line, it would be easy to envision Harris accepting the position; after all, he's a leader on and off the mound. For the time being, though, his heart remains on the mound.

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