14 July, 2005

Surge by Harris has Kettleers on the Move

After a slow start, life in the Cape Cod Baseball League has become rather sweet for Bryan Harris of the Cotuit Kettleers.

In the last 13 games, Harris has been feasting on Cape league pitching and has raised his batting average 79 points.

After batting just .227 in the first eight games of the season, he has banged out 18 hits and batted a whopping .346 to bring his season's average to .306.

"It just came back in the midst of things. I'm seeing a lot of pitches and I'm producing," says Harris.

Dispelling the belief that hitters in the Cape League have trouble adjusting to wood bats, Harris says it was just a matter of swinging the bat better and making good contact.

"You just try to hit the sweet spot, whether you're using a wood bat or a metal bat," he says. "I just shortened my swing a little and put the meat of the bat on the ball; just put the middle of the bat on the ball. That's the key to producing."

After driving in only three runs with five hits (one a double), he has driven in 13 with two homers and two doubles.

This production has translated into Kettleer wins, who have gone 8-5 with Harris' recent offensive surge.

Cotuit field manager Mike Roberts says Harris' sudden success has been due to more playing time and hard work.

Roberts says that during Harris' last two seasons at LSU, he didn't get many opportunities to improve his hitting. Harris was red-shirted his first year and this past season had only about 50 at bats.

Harris estimated it to be more like 30 at bats and said his batting average suffered terribly at around .200.

"He had no rhythm when he got here," says Roberts. "What you were seeing the first two or three weeks of the season was what happened last year, but this year he quickened it up and got his rhythm back faster."

This probably had a lot to do with Harris' work ethic. "Bryan is committed to doing extra work. He is committed to coming to the field early. When you put in the extra work, you have the greatest chance of improving your skills," says Roberts.

This work ethic is apparent even to Kim Lehrer, with whom Harris has stayed for the last two summers on Cape Cod.

"We've had a lot of players stay with us. We've had pitchers and outfielders, but I've never seen any one so dedicated," says Lehrer. "He's always ready to go to the field. If the coach says 2 o'clock, he's there at 12:30."

Lehrer also says Harris is somewhat of a homebody. "He's like part of the family. He loves to go out to play golf with my husband," she says.

This aspect of Harris' personality is part of what motivated him to transfer to Cal State-Fullerton this fall.

In addition to the chance of getting more playing time, Harris will be closer to his family. "I live like 10 or 15 minutes away," he says. "My parents can come see me play."

Of all the players Lehrer has ever had stay with her, Harris is her overwhelming favorite.

"He's a great kid. It's been a great experience." says Lehrer. "And that's why he's our last one. We're going to end on a good note. Bryan made it hard for anyone to top."

Early in the season Harris had an uppercut swing and, "at 6 feet 4, he didn't use his legs well at all," says Roberts. "He worked to stabilize his legs. He turned a golf swing into a very good baseball swing."

Hitting in the cleanup spot, one might expect Harris to hit with more power. Only five of his 23 hits have been for extra bases, but Roberts says that will come.

"The first thing to do is to make contact on the sweet spot. Hopefully the singles will become doubles, the doubles will become home runs," Roberts says.

Roberts also points to Harris' fielding skills, which have also improved as the season has progressed.

During the first eight games he committed two errors, but in the last 13 he made only one.

What is more remarkable is that, "he is willing to play anywhere," says Roberts. He has played both first base and third base comfortably."

In last Monday's dramatic ninth inning 4-3 win over Bourne, in which Harris drove in a run with a single in the first inning, he played third base and made a number of nice plays.

Twice he had to race in to scoop up slow rollers down the line and throw to first on the run.

He got the runner the first time, but was late on the throw on the second despite a strong throw while leaning away and throwing across his body.

"He's got a beautiful throwing motion," says Roberts. "And he can throw from all angles, which is not an easy thing to do."

Harris says fielding and hitting go together. "When you're hitting the fielding comes and when you're fielding well the hitting comes."

Sometimes it all comes together and for Harris, it seems he has finally found his sweet spot.

By George Kostinas