‘Life moves fast’: Braves’ Michael Harris grateful to be home for a long time

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Around nine months ago, Michael Harris lined up with the masses at Truist Park because he wanted to celebrate the World Series champions at their parade – not as a player in the organization but as a fan. Harris already was a top prospect, but as one of the bigger Atlanta sports fans out there, he needed to be there for this monumental day in the franchise’s history.

This was the same person who grew up rooting for the Braves, who attended games as a child, who went to postseason contests last year, who ended up snagging World Series tickets, who dreamed of one day winning a World Series with the Braves.

And now, here he was: sitting at a table at the front of the interview room at Truist Park, with president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos at his side and his family in the front row, Harris expressed gratitude for the eight-year, $72 million extension that makes him part of the team through at least 2030.

“It’s a life-changing moment,” Harris said Wednesday.

But Harris, who is humble and often reserved, couldn’t yet put all of this into words. A Braves fan from the time he knew baseball existed, Harris hoped to one day wear this uniform. As a young kid, he remembers going to games at Turner Field and recalled the one time he played a whiffle-ball game in the outfield. “Just being able to put on that Braves jersey after being that young and watching them for so long and rooting for all the players that have been through this organization and had success,” Harris said, “for me to actually be in that position is kind of crazy.”

This is wild for everyone around Harris – his mom, his dad, his sister, his friends and more. They have seen him grow, as a baseball player and person, over the years. And now, the one they love is playing for his hometown team. He is a young star who is a role model to kids. He is part of a Braves core that hopes to win many more World Series.

“It’s like a dream,” Harris’ dad, Michael Harris, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I pinch myself every day. I never watched baseball as much as I have now. And I loved baseball. Now I have to record the games because if we miss something, it’s exciting. He’s brought excitement back to the city, I think.”

Harris, the son, already is one of the game’s top young players. “His play, obviously, is the important area,” Anthopoulos said of extending Harris. “He just played so well, and knowing what it meant for him to be here and to have (him) in our core.” In spring training, Anthopoulos would see Harris walking into the clubhouse sporting a Hawks jersey one day, a Falcons jersey another.

On Wednesday, Anthopoulos stated the obvious: The extension means Harris is part of the core, a “pillar” in the organization. The Braves wanted him here for a long time – who wouldn’t want a stud center fielder? – but Harris views Atlanta as home. He wanted to stay here. But he didn’t know how to describe his feelings on this massive accomplishment, which, if you have ever talked to Harris, won’t surprise you because he’s as even-keeled as they come.

“I don’t think I even have emotions,” Harris said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “Like when I got drafted, I didn’t have any emotions. I was just staring at the TV. Everybody else was running around the living room. I’m just the one person standing there with no emotions.”

Harris will make $5 million per year for 2023-24, $8 million per year for 2025-26, $9 million in 2027, $10 million per year in 2028-29 and $12 million in 2030. The deal will be worth $102 million over 10 years if the Braves exercise both options.

The Braves always valued Harris. Three years ago, they believed in him enough to draft him in the third round as a hitter, even if most of the industry viewed him as a pitcher. In spring training this year, as Anthopoulos tried to swing a trade for Matt Olson, he told Harris: “I’m not trading you.”

At the time his deal became official, Harris was batting .287 with an .825 OPS. He had 12 home runs and 39 RBIs. He might be the leading candidate for National League Rookie of the Year. The Braves felt confident he would keep ascending as a player.

But they also were comfortable investing in Harris as a person. An important aspect of long-term contracts, Anthopoulos said, is ensuring the player won’t change.

“And I think Mike’s just gonna continue being who he is,” said Anthopoulos, who mentioned loving how Harris never seems rattled.

“Always such a quiet kid,” Michael Harris, the father, said of his son. “He doesn’t show any emotion. You won’t know if he hit a home run, he struck out, made an error, made a play. Every now and then, he’ll show just a little emotion.”

Harris, who is Black, once played in the Hank Aaron Invitational Showcase Game when he was in high school. The game brings together primarily Black and Latino high school players.

“Pretty much if you set your mind to your main goal and strive every day to perfect it and try to reach that goal, anything is possible,” Harris said when asked what message his journey sends to young baseball players who are Black. “Life moves fast. If you stay on your course and you believe in yourself and have people around you who really believe in you, anything is possible.”

For years, sports fans viewed Atlanta as cursed ground. Atlanta sports fans received pity from anywhere and everywhere. You had the Falcons and the University of Georgia blowing leads in their respective championship games. The Braves were young and talented, but suffered multiple postseason letdowns before winning the World Series.

Now the Braves have Harris, Ronald Acuña, Austin Riley, Matt Olson and Ozzie Albies all signed through at least 2027, if the club options are exercised on Albies’ contract. Certain players have not received contract extensions but have multiple years of control, such as Max Fried or Spencer Strider or Kyle Wright. The Braves are set up to win now and in the future, and Harris is the next franchise cornerstone.

It’s impossible not to think about it this way, too: A few months ago, Harris was riding buses to and from Mississippi while he was at Double-A. Now he is a fan favorite playing for his hometown team.

“Life moves fast,” Harris said. “It still hasn’t really caught up to me. I’m just living in the moment right now. I guess when the season’s over, I can look back and notice how everything played out this year and how quick it actually moved. It’s just a blessing to actually be up here talking right now and putting on a Braves jersey every night.”