Baltimore’s Harris excels on the basepaths
BY GLENN MILLER
Roy Hobbs Baseball
Scott Harris’ primary sport half a century ago at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, Maryland, wasn’t baseball. He focused on football, basketball and track and played some baseball in the summer.
It was track and his sprinter’s speed that led him to the Susquehanna University track team in Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. Baseball was always in his blood, though, and in recent years he’s turned his track training and speed to the diamond for the Baltimore Orioles in the Roy Hobbs World Series and a team in the Ponce de Leon league in suburban Washington, D.C.
Speed? His speed can be documented.
He had it in college when he roared to a 9.9 time in the 100-yard dash. He still has speed. Harris, 67, competed in track in the National Senior Games in Miramar, Florida. earlier this year. He placed fifth in the 65-69 age division in the 50 meters (7.15 seconds) and 100 meters (13.24), third in the long jump and was part of a gold medal winning 4X100 relay team.
That speed and athleticism is also paying off for his baseball teams. His team in the Ponce de Leon had rattled off a 34-game winning streak, won 45 out of 47 games and four league titles as of mid-July.
Four players from that Ponce juggernaut will compete with the Orioles in the 2023 World Series. Harris will be joined in Fort Myers by Mike Ellis, Robin Nye and Steve Murfin.
Veteran Orioles who have been around a long time will return as well. Frank Petrucci, David Vidi, Jim Masch and Herb Otto have been with the team since 1996 or 1997. Taylor Lucas and Charlie Garrett joined the Orioles in 2009.
In Fort Myers, as always, they will compete against players about their own age. That’s not the case back home for Harris and others who play in the Ponce league.
Nye said their Ponce team comprised of players 50 and older participates in and wins in a 30-plus age division. They win with a roster of six players in their 60s, one over 70 and three others about 60.
Part of the explanation for that success is likely team fitness, perhaps starting with Harris. Nye said nobody on the team is overweight. After a moment, though, he did say there might be one overweight player.
But only one. …
The Orioles meanwhile are a Roy Hobbs World Series fixture. A key to team longevity might be camaraderie, a chemistry that comes through bonding on the field and in dugouts.
“We love each other,” Nye said.
Ellis, 69, said the team has a waiting list of four players eager to join. But the team is choosy.
“Check your egos at the door,” Ellis said.
The same is true for league play. Some players drive many miles from various spots around Washington to converge on ballfields for Ponce games.
“Everybody is willing to sacrifice,” said Nye, who estimates he’s been playing in the Roy Hobbs World Series for close to 20 years.
Ellis recruited Harris to play baseball. And he’s glad he did.
“His speed changes the game,” Ellis said.
Ellis said opposing teams have to bring in their third basemen to guard against bunts, which also, obviously, makes it easier to slap hard grounders down the left-field line or between the third baseman and shortstop.
Opposing teams certainly don’t want to walk Harris.
“Any time he gets on first base, put it in the book,” Ellis said. “It’s a double.”
Harris invariably follows a walk with a stolen base.
As Harris dashes to first or flies around second, Ellis sees something rare after about 40 or 45 feet.
“He has another gear I’ve never seen,” Ellis said.
Then there is defense.
“I get to a lot of balls a lot of guys don’t get to,” Harris said.
Harris flags down fly balls in the air, turning some hits into outs and others he snags on a hop that could roll through the gaps and he turns those potential extra-base hits into singles.
“He has closing speed like I’ve never seen,” Ellis said.
Harris brings intangibles to baseball to go along with raw athleticism. Although many Roy Hobbs players focused on baseball in high school and college and have played for decades, Harris has been back playing for only a few years.
“Great, positive attitude,” Murfin said. “Always learning, working on some things.” Murfin said Harris spends lots of time in batting cages fine tuning his swing.
Harris returned to baseball in 2015. The last time he played baseball was in the summer of 1972, the year he graduated from Paint Branch High School. All those years later Harris started playing again the game he played as a boy.
“I’ve been surprised at how well I’ve done,” Harris said. “I feel blessed I can still do these things.”
He certainly had his legs underneath him. As part of his track training Harris runs repeats at distances of 50, 100, 200 and 300 yards. He resides on a hilly cul-de-sac and at the end of workouts will sprint four or five times about 100 yards uphill.
In addition to the sprints, Harris competes in the long jump and standing long jump. All that leg work helps him run the bases and covers acres of territory in the outfield.
Although combining baseball and track is difficult it has been done and been done by Hall of Fame baseball players.
Roy Hobbs Baseball took some time over the summer to look into the baseball/track connection.
Baseball and track connection
There have been exceptional athletes who can excel at both even with concurrent seasons.
The list of men who participated in both sports is surprisingly long and includes some of the greatest baseball players ever. We don’t have room to list them all.
• The most famous example of a track-baseball man might be Jim Thorpe, the legendary all-around athlete who was in the news again over the summer 110 years after a breakout performance at 1912 Stockholm Olympics. He won Gold in the decathlon and pentathlon in the Games, but the medals were stripped because he had played baseball for money in the minors. The International Olympic Committee reinstated both Gold medals over the summer. The year after the 1912 Games, Thorpe began a 6-year big-league career that saw him play for the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds and Boston Braves. He hit .252 with seven homers, 82 RBI and 29 stolen bases from 1913 to 1919,
• Jackie Robinson was a 4-sport man at UCLA where he excelled at football, basketball and track. Baseball was considered his fourth-best sport. He won the Pacific Coast Conference long jump title with a leap of 25-feet.
• One-time 2-sport marvel Bo Jackson dabbled in track while in high school in Alabama. Dabbled? Although he focused on football and baseball, Jackson was a 2-time Alabama decathlon champ.
• Legendary slugger Jimmie Foxx spent several spring trainings at Terry Park in Fort Myers as a member of the Philadelphia A’s. Before showing up for his first spring with the A’s in 1925, Foxx was Maryland state sprint champ and set state records in the 220 and 80-yard dashes.
• Speedy Los Angeles Dodgers centerfielder Willie Davis of the 1960s and 1970s excelled in track in high school. He ran a 9.5 100-yard dash in high school in Los Angeles and also set a city record in the long jump of 25 feet, 5 inches.
• Veteran Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Andrew McCutchen focused on baseball and football at Fort Meade High School in Florida but was also on a state championship 4X100 relay team.
• Outfielder Dave Collins played in the majors from 1975 to 1990 and is likely remembered as a speedy player. He showed that speed as a schoolboy on the track in South Dakota, where he set a state high school record of 9.6 in the 100. Oh, he was also an all-state football player and the state’s American Legion baseball player of the year.
Three of the legends mentioned here never had the chance to do what Morris is doing in his 60s. Robinson died of a heart attack at the age of 53 in 1972, the year Harris graduated from high school.
Foxx died at the age of 59 in 1967 after choking on some food.
Thorpe had a heart attack at the age of 65 while eating dinner with his wife, Patsy, in their trailer in Lomita, Calif. Although briefly revived, he died.
Now, Harris is closing in on 70 and still running track and playing baseball.
“I’m just glad I’m playing,” he said.
His teammates on the Baltimore Orioles and in the Ponce de Leon league no doubt agree.
Finally, just because we love this stuff, here is a track-baseball connection very few likely know.
Dave Sime was an American Olympic sprinter. He didn’t run track in the 1950s at Fair Lawn High School in New Jersey, focusing on baseball and football. He went to Duke on a baseball scholarship and one day in his baseball shoes ran 100 yards through high grass on the football field in 9.8.
He switched his focus to track and earned a silver medal in the 1960 Olympics.
But he never played in a Roy Hobbs World Series.