June 10, 2010


Little Guys, Big Impact

Keith Werman of Virginia

Rico Noel of Coastal Carolina

Nathan Kilcrease of Alabama


Former Walk-On Harris Shines for Vandy

By Jimmy Jones

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com

(photos by Jimmy Jones)


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - He is not the tallest or the strongest athlete on the team, he probably ranks in the bottom half of the roster on the speed scale and he was not a heralded or highly-sought recruit out of high school despite earning all-state honors in two sports.

But fifth-year senior Brian Harris (right) will leave giant-sized footprints on the Vanderbilt Commodores baseball program after he laces up the cleats for the final time. After all, the Commodores can thank the shortstop for saving their season and sending them to a Super Regional showdown with Florida State with two splendid plays in the final two innings against Louisville in the do-or-die Regional final.

At 5-8, 160 pounds, Harris didn't receive much attention from Division I recruiters. In fact, it appeared that his best option was to play at a junior college until he decided that he would take a chance as a walk-on at Vanderbilt, a school that had just recruited a couple of the best classes in the nation, a school that eventually yielded professional players such as Dominic de la Osa, David Price, Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan White and Casey Weathers.

It was a typically ambitious undertaking for the Montgomery Bell Academy graduate, and it didn't take the Commodores' staff long to make the decision to give the young man the opportunity of a lifetime.

That call turned out to be one of the best that either side has ever made, though it took some time for the always confident youngster to get on the field.

Harris, known by his teammates as "Dirty Harry," red-shirted his freshman year and only saw limited time the next two seasons due to the extremely talented roster. He wasn't playing much, but his work ethic was beyond reproach.

"I just needed to prove I belong," Harris said. "Anytime you are in that walk-on situation, you kind of want to prove that you think you can play with these guys and compete in the SEC. The goal that you constantly have as a younger player, especially as a walk-on, is to prove you can compete."

The hard work paid dividends in his junior year when he earned first-team All-SEC honors and was a member of the All-SEC defensive team.

Harris flourished in the leadoff role, as he led the team in runs with 69, hit .299, recorded 21 doubles and perhaps most impressively, knocked in 45 runs for the season. His hard-nosed style of play dictates that he take away as much of the strike zone as possible from the opposing pitcher with a stance that places him right on top of the plate, making it no coincidence that he led the SEC in being hit by a pitch on 21 occasions in 64 games in 2009.

That pattern continued this season: Harris set the NCAA single-season record by being hit 36 times in 2010.

Add that number to his 63 hits and 54 walks and Harris reached base an incredible 153 times out of 305 plate appearances (.498) in 2010.

"He's as good of a leadoff hitter as we've had here in terms of numbers and in terms of getting on base," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "He just takes on a leadership role of a leadoff hitter as it should be played out.

"You get very few days when he doesn't do well," Corbin said. "He is very consistent in what he does. He brings the same approach to the ballpark every day. He has a very good energy for the game every day. We lean on him hard. I just think he has been a sponge the last few years where he has picked up on the opponent and understands what it takes to be successful in this league."

Not only has Harris proved his worth as a hitter, but he also has been the anchor at shortstop for the Commodores defensively.

That was never more evident than in the regional tournament in Louisville with all the marbles on the table for the Commodores.

With Sonny Gray on the mound in the eighth inning of the championship game and runners at first and third with two outs, Louisville All-American Phil Wunderlich hit a sharp bouncer that Gray jumped and deflected. For an agonizing moment the ball appeared to be headed for no-man's land to score the go-ahead run for the Cardinals, but "Dirty Harry" had not quit on the play. He glided to the ball, scooped it up and threw the runner out by a half step to end the rally as the sellout crowd sat in stunned disbelief.

He was at it again with the game again on the line in the ninth when his leaping catch of a scorching liner off the bat of Andrew Clark with runners at second and third with the game tied was not only spectacular, but it also may have saved the Vanderbilt season.

It was the kind of stuff of which heroes are made. The kid that nobody wanted out of high school has left no doubt in anybody's mind.

Brian Harris not only belongs, he has raised the bar.