*Jalen Harris (Toronto) is more than a ball player, he is a testament to the human spirit.
By Kevin Glew
The windy days are the most challenging for Jalen Harris on the field.
On those days, the soon-to-be, 19-year-old third baseman can’t hear anything but the whistle of the breeze.
But that hasn’t prevented the Toronto native, who was born deaf, from chasing his baseball dreams.
Equipped with cochlear implants since he was three, Harris has been impressing big league scouts with his never-say-die attitude, expert lip-reading abilities and natural athletic gifts over the past few years. His combination of speed, soft hands and a strong arm were enough to convince the Milwaukee Brewers to select him in the 41st round of this year’s First-Year Player Draft.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound infielder quickly signed with the Brewers and has reported to the club’s training facility in Phoenix, Az. And when Harris tells you that his heroes are trailblazers like Jackie Robinson and Fergie Jenkins, it’s not surprising that he has readily embraced his role model status. Over the past couple of years, he has spoken at schools and hospitals about what he has had to overcome to be successful.
“My message is that the deaf or hard of hearing can do everything that hearing people can do,” said Harris, who can hear his teammates when they’re close to him.
The promising teen’s agent, Joshua Kusnick, says that Harris is type of person who will inspire others.
“I know some players that have to face different things on a daily basis and they don’t talk about them. Nobody knows about them,” he said. “But Jalen is the kind of guy that, I think, the day after the draft he was at the school for the deaf, trying to talk to everybody. He’s that kind of person where you just really pull for him.”
Raised in Etobicoke, Ont., Harris first picked up a bat when he was two and his parents, Terry and Sandra, signed him up for his first team when he was five. The Canuck prospect also benefited from competition with his brother, Jesse, who is three years older and currently a catcher at Niagara University.
A Yankees fan as a youngster, Harris played at Northern Secondary School in Toronto and honed his skills at the Ontario International Baseball Academy. In 2010, he played for Canada’s Junior National Team (JNT).
“Jalen plays the game easy,” said Greg Hamilton, JNT head coach. “For a big man, he runs well. He’s got an easy arm that has arm strength and carry and his hands work real well and his speed works real well. He’s a really athletic kid.”
Primarily a third baseman, Harris also played first base with the Canadian squad. The newly signed prospect says that playing for his country was one of the highlights of his career.
“I had so much fun,” he said of his JNT stint. “I wish I was still under 18, so I could still play for the national team.”
After his tenure with Team Canada, he finished high school at Lambrick Park Secondary School in Victoria, B.C., which is noted for its baseball program. He also suited up for the Victoria Mariners and coach Mike Chewpoy, of the B.C. Premier Baseball League.
“It’s better weather than Toronto,” said Harris, when asked how the move to Victoria helped his career. “And it’s a better league to play in. There are more games.”
Kusnick says that Harris turned down a scholarship to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla. to sign with the Brewers.
“I’ve always wanted to play professionally,” explained Harris. “I would love to have gone to Stetson. I think it’s a great school ... but I’ll take (playing in) the pros over school any day.”
Harris reported to the Brewers’ training facility on June 12 and is likely destined for the club’s rookie-class affiliate in the Arizona League.
Being drafted in the 41st round makes him a long shot to make the big leagues in some people’s eyes, but those who know him would never bet against him.
“I think with Jalen it’s all going to come down to the bat,” said Hamilton. “He’ll certainly find a home defensively. There’s a lot of places you could put him and he’s athletic enough. His hands work and his arm strength is there . . . everything works from an athletic perspective.”
Kusnick says Harris’s “makeup” is bound to elevate him to the big league level one day.
“His makeup is off the charts. He’ll work through anything. This isn’t a kid who’s going to go through an 0 for 30 slump and then just quit,” said Kusnick.
And being drafted by Milwaukee should help, adds Kusnick, because the Brewers have a track record of developing and promoting late-round picks.
“Jalen is going to be a guy that if he went somewhere else I’m not sure that he would’ve gotten the opportunity that he’s going to be getting with the Brewers,” he said.