Love for animals nearly took Braves outfielder Michael Harris to vet school

Atlanta Braves right fielder Michael Harris warms up before a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Credit: AP

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Atlanta Braves right fielder Michael Harris warms up before a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Thursday, June 2, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Credit: AP

DENVER – These days, 21-year-old Michael Harris is flying in the outfield and around the bases for his hometown Braves, which is a dream come true.

In an alternate reality, one in which he doesn’t get drafted high enough to sign out of high school, Harris would be attending Texas Tech and working toward admission into Tech’s School of Veterinary Medicine. He’s always loved animals.

“I feel like they’re literally humans,” Harris said in the visitors’ clubhouse at Coors Field. “You can talk to them, but they don’t have the same conversations like that. I just feel like they’re a different form of humans, and they just share the same love that we share.”

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Since he was a boy growing up in metro Atlanta, Harris has been fond of animals. His favorite movies revolve around them, as did his educational decision when looking at colleges.

The funny part about all of this: Harris’ love for animals began, and grew, despite him never having a pet as a child.

“I would be at a lot of people’s houses and they had dogs, other pets, and I just interacted with them good,” Harris said. “I feel like that’s where (the love) came from because I never really had a pet of my own.”

Harris, who went to Stockbridge High, doesn’t quite remember when he first learned he could work with animals as a career. He feels like it was when he was relatively young. “I know when I found out,” he said, “that’s when I knew what I wanted to do.”

He has a few favorite movies, and all are about animals. He loves “Air Buddies,” which is about dogs. He enjoys “Spirit,” which is the story of a horse. And he also likes “Racing Stripes,” which is about a zebra.

If Harris had to pick a favorite animal, it would be either a dog or a horse. “I’ve always been big on horses,” he said. He rode a horse last offseason, which seems like it could have been scary, even for a phenomenal athlete.

In the future, Harris wants to own some land, or live in a space where he has enough room for horses.

So, why did a Georgia native eye vet school at Texas Tech specifically?

“It was really just where I committed (for baseball),” Harris said. “I went there, fell in love with the coaches and the environment. I know they’re a good program baseball-wise, good educational program. They had everything set up perfectly for student-athletes. Feel like it would’ve been the perfect place for me. It just so happened they had a vet program for me to go through.”

And it just so happened – as you know because you’re reading this – that Harris’ talent on the baseball field kept him away from college.

The Braves drafted him in the third round in 2019 and signed him out of high school. The Braves called him up after he had played in only 197 games in the minor leagues. He already has displayed his tools through his first week in the majors.

Harris has collected his first few hits and his first few RBIs as a big leaguer. Along the way, he’s flashed the leather with a few incredible plays in center field.

His current job takes a lot of time, but Harris’ love for animals isn’t going away.

“Definitely plan on doing something with animals in the future,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what yet, but I definitely will.”

Braves getting comfortable in close games

After Friday’s two-run victory, the Braves are 12-10 in games decided by one or two runs.

And as you can see – or count, in this case – 22 of the club’s 53 games have been decided by one or two runs.

Can this help the club going forward?

“I think it’s good for a team to have experience in all that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I absolutely do. And it’s been like that for a while. We always talk about (how) we play the same game every night. We’re always just right there – a hit away or a pitch away from something really good happening.”

Braves spreading out the bullpen work

Here’s another positive that has come from those tight games: Despite playing them, the Braves have found a way not to overwork their bullpen.

Heading into Saturday’s game against the Rockies, Braves relievers had thrown 193 1/3 innings, which ranked No. 13 in baseball for the most innings by a bullpen. So they’re about middle of the pack. Their bullpen’s 3.21 ERA ranks seventh in the sport.

Other than Spencer Strider, who is now part of the rotation, the Braves bullpen member with the most innings is lefty A.J. Minter, who had logged 23 of them over the first 53 games.

“I think we’ve kind of spread it around a little bit too, which you have to,” Snitker said. “Letting everybody get involved and getting guys different looks and different responsibilities, and I think that all, down the road, could be a good thing.”

Injury updates

Eddie Rosario, who underwent a laser eye procedure in late April, is now hitting in the cage and throwing, Snitker said. This is positive news because when Rosario spoke to reporters in May, his vision had not yet fully returned and he was not doing baseball activities.

“He’s going good,” Snitker said. “Everything seems to be well in the healing process. He’s amping it up a little as he goes.”

Tyler Matzek (left shoulder inflammation) is now playing catch. This is the start of his throwing progression, but he hasn’t yet thrown off a mound.

“Everything so far has been really good,” Snitker said. “Until he gets up there and turns it loose, we won’t know. But the catch and the exercise and everything all that is going really well.”

Snitker used a qualifier when speaking about Rosario and Matzek: Until they head out on rehab assignments, the Braves won’t truly know how they are feeling and if they are past the ailments.