Pirates' second baseman enters in sixth inning and goes 0-for-2
By Adam Berry
MIAMI -- Josh Harrison wasn't heavily recruited as a senior at Princeton High School in Cincinnati. Standing just 5 feet 6 and weighing about 155 pounds as his graduation day drew near, Harrison began to think junior college baseball was his best option.
"Wasn't my plan, but if I had to, I would have," Harrison said Tuesday. "I knew I could play this game."
On Tuesday night, Harrison played the game at the highest level for the second time. He finished 0-for-2 in the 2017 All-Star Game presented by Mastercard, which ended with a 2-1 American League win in 10 innings.
"It was fun. Every time it's going to be fun. I enjoyed being around the guys," Harrison said. "It goes so quick, but you've got to enjoy every aspect of it."
Hours before manning second base at Marlins Park, Harrison sat at his locker in a clubhouse full of the National League's best players and recounted the story that set him toward the big leagues. It began in his senior year of high school as an undersized switch-hitter looking for college scholarship offers.
He had his heart set on the University of Kentucky, where his brother, Vince, played. After a workout, Kentucky's coach advised Harrison to consider junior college. If Harrison could secure a full scholarship to a junior college, he thought, he'd play there and find a way to professional baseball.
Harrison received offers that would cover 20 or 30 percent of his tuition. He knew his parents couldn't afford to pay 70 percent of his college costs, so he started scrambling for other scholarships. Eventually, his hometown University of Cincinnati stepped up and offered a 70-percent scholarship.
Harrison's final day of high school began at 6 a.m., when he signed his letter of intent to play for the Bearcats. That afternoon, Harrison said, his high school team lost a "heartbreaker," the game that would have sent them to the state championship. He cried, returned to school, showered and attended his graduation ceremony.
"Talk about a wave of emotions," Harrison said. "I'll never forget that. Like it was yesterday."
As a freshman, the Bearcats asked Harrison to drop switch-hitting, so he started hit exclusively right-handed. Committed to weight training instead of playing three sports as he did in high school, he put on about 10 pounds of muscle.
"I knew somebody would take a chance," Harrison said, "and I knew they wouldn't be disappointed."
Harrison and his family still had to pay 30 percent of his way at UC during his freshman year. They hadn't quite scraped together the necessary funds that winter, so when Harrison went to schedule his classes, he found he was blocked out due to an outstanding bill. He took out a small loan.
After playing well as a freshman, Harrison was rewarded with a full scholarship for his sophomore and junior seasons. The first thing he did after his coach shared the news? Call his parents. Two years later, in 2008, Harrison was drafted by the Cubs in the sixth round. After signing, he paid off his freshman loan.
"I know my parents were like, 'Hey, we'll find a way,'" Harrison said. "I was able to make it happen."
A little more than a year later, the Pirates traded for Harrison. He's grown from a fringy, up-and-down utility infielder into a do-it-all defender, a spark in their lineup and, after Tuesday night, a two-time All-Star.
"Sometimes I just take a step back and say, 'Man, I'm here.' I don't take it for granted," Harrison said. "That's why I don't. Every year, somebody's coming for your spot. I remember I was coming for somebody's spot. That's why I don't take it for granted."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.