After a year away from the game, John Harris was ready to return to baseball and he’ll do just that when the recently hired Southern Maryland Blue Crabs manager steps on the Regency Furniture Stadium field April 20.
Harris replaces former player-coach Jeremy Owens, who coached for one year, but who was with the team since 2009.
“I spent a year off the field and that was enough. I wanted to come back. I was ready to get back,” Harris said. “I was talking to [Long Island general manager] Mike Pfaff and I just threw my name out there and fortunately it happened. It came real fast, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. … I’m really looking forward to it and I’m very excited and blessed.”
“I’ve heard great things [about him],” Blue Crabs infielder Zach Wilson said.
Harris takes over a Blue Crabs team that was 57-83 last season and finished 19 games back in the Atlantic League’s Freedom Division.
“We brought back eight guys, and I think they’re quality guys,” Harris said. “And we want our own guys, too. I just think sometimes guys are here for a long time and they get stale, but so far so good.”
“Last year was definitely a little bump in the road, but it was one of those years,” Wilson said. “[We] just have to come back and rebuild and go from there.”
Harris said he wants several right-handed hitters to take advantage of the shorter 330-foot left-field fence.
“I think we’re athletic, [and] we have guys who can move around and run,” Harris said, “but it’s built on right-handed power with Wilson, [Mike] Blanke and [Patrick] Palmeiro and [Michael] Snyder, so hopefully we can have a good blend of each.”
The pitching staff will be under the direction of newly-hired coach Jim Frisbie.
“We’re a few pieces away [and] I’m just trying to fit in the pieces in between,” Harris said. “We still have about three guys to bring in and hopefully they’re going to be quality No. 1 guys.”
Harris said the season could greatly depend on two factors.
“It all comes down to pitching and defense,” he said. “It’s how the new guys pitch here; pop outs go out. It’s like Death Valley, but you have to deal with it and move on. I’ll try and get guys who can play defense, our outfield’s athletic and [Edwin] Garcia our shortstop is good, but you have to pitch and play defense. That formula hasn’t changed.”
Harris said his coaching style is to have “things done the right way. I try to be very professional. I want my team to reflect that in how they look, how they act, but I’m going to let them play. I’m not a rah-rah guy, I’m not a yell-at-them guy. I try to treat them like the pros that they are and it’s up to them. We just want to create a good atmosphere for them to succeed.”
As far as his in-game coaching style, Harris said it “depends on the team and how we’re going. I just really don’t manage until the seventh inning. I don’t want to do a lot early because sometimes you take yourselves out [of the game].”
Harris played baseball at Clovis (Calif.) High School and then attended Lubbock Christian University, where he was coached by the Larry Hays, who Harris said was most influential in his career.
“His philosophy ‘Just be yourself, don’t get too high or too low and try and be as honest as you can’ still works and it was 40 years ago,’” Harris said.
Harris was chosen in the 29th round of the 1976 Major League Baseball draft by the California Angels and played his entire career from 1979 to 1981 with them. In 56 career games, he batted .258 with 31 hits, including five home runs, and added 16 RBIs and 13 runs.
Harris later spent stints as hitting coach with the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Canaries, the Shreveport-Bossier (La.) Captains and the Amarillo (Texas) Dillas, and was named manager of the Dillas in 2011. In 2015, he was the hitting coach of the Bridgeport Bluefish, also in the Atlantic League like the Blue Crabs. Last year, Harris was director of player procurement for the Quebec, Canada-based Trois-Rivières Aigles.
Harris is living in Port Tobacco with the same host family that has billeted the team’s other managers because, he said with a smile, he “can’t break that tradition or I’d get fired.”
The Blue Crabs will hold a 10-day spring training camp before opening the club’s 10th season April 20 — “I’m going nuts. There’s some guys here working out and we’re all, ‘Let’s start already,” Harris said — with a seven-game homestand against the Long Island Ducks and York Revolution.
“My goals are to put a good product on the field and I want to win, just like everybody else,” Harris said. “It’s 140 games, it’s a marathon so we’ll build to where we’re going. I want to go to the playoffs. I’m not going to say we are [going] but that’s my goal and good product, good people and just have a successful year for the Blue Crabs.”