One after another, Michael Harris II began listing the memorable moments from his MLB debut.
Playing at Truist Park. Hearing his name called. The fans cheering for him. Going up for his first at-bat. Collecting his first hit.
“A lot of firsts happened that day,” Harris said. “It was a great moment. “Looking back on it now, a year later, it happened kind of quick, too. I kind of just cherished the moment. Kind of want to relive it again.”
Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of Harris’ debut in the major leagues. On that day, a Saturday afternoon game versus the Marlins, he went 1-for-3 while starting in center field.
In the months that followed, the Stockbridge High alum put together a terrific rookie season full of accomplishments and special memories.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Harris looked back on the past year.
His first hit: May 28, 2022
As he started to reminisce on this moment, Harris actually began with his first at-bat, when Sandy Alcantara – who eventually won the National League Cy Young Award – struck him out.
“Threw me three nasty change-ups at 92 (mph),” Harris said. “I went up there swinging.”
And upon further review, Harris remembered this correctly: After he took a ball on the first pitch he saw in his career, Harris swung through three change-ups below the zone. The first clocked 92 mph, the other two 93 mph. (We’ll forgive Harris for being one mph off.) Harris considered this strikeout to be his “Welcome To The Big Leagues” moment.
“It kind of opened my eyes that I can’t just go up there free-swinging and hoping to hit it,” he said. “These guys have a plan and know what they’re gonna do, especially a guy like Sandy, who just won a Cy Young. So you got to really have an approach and have a plan going up there against these guys.”
That brings us to the sixth inning, when Harris walked into the batter’s box for the second time.
“I got up there next at-bat and kind of took one because I knew he was gonna try to make me chase it again, and I wanted to get the fastball this time, and I didn’t want to miss it,” Harris said. “He gave me something out over (the plate), and just kind of took it that way, and I was lucky enough that nobody was there to catch it and throw me out.”
More specifically, it went like this: Alcantara began the battle by throwing a change-up and a sinker. Harris swung at neither. Then Harris fouled off a 99 mph four-seam fastball. Harris hit the fourth pitch, a 99 mph four-seamer middle and away, sharply into left field for a single.
“It was fun,” he said of his first hit. “Glad it was off of a guy like him. Kind of gives you a lot of confidence, especially your first one.”
His first home run: June 13, 2022
The first detail Harris thought about when reflecting on his first career homer?
“It was not a strike,” he said. “It was a splitter up and away.”
Indeed, this pitch was out of the strike zone. Nonetheless, Harris hit it a projected 388 feet for a solo home run in the top of the eighth inning.
“I still don’t think, to this day, that ball was gonna leave, so I was sprinting around (the bases),” Harris said. “I guess I put enough backspin on it, and it got out.”
And it landed among the Braves’ relievers.
“I’m glad it got in the bullpen, so we didn’t have to fight any fans for it,” Harris said. “It was a good moment again.”
The Braves ended up winning that game for their 12th consecutive win. They eventually won 14 in a row.
Harris, who contributed to the victory, left the ballpark with a moment he’ll never forget.
“I guess it was just another one of those firsts that you really have to cherish,” he said. (Harris then homered in the next game, too.)
The baseballs from his first hit and first home run are at his parents’ house. This is where he keeps a lot of these types of mementos.
His first Rookie of the Month honor: June 2022
Each month, media members vote on monthly awards for each league: Player of the Month, Pitcher of the Month and more.
In June, Harris earned National League Rookie of the Month.
“It was crazy,” he said. “... That was kind of cool to see. First month in, I’m a new guy, and just see my graphic out there in the outfield for the top guys in that month in the league, it kind of gave me a lot more confidence because – I mean, I don’t know how that wouldn’t. But just kind of gave me more motivation to keep going and try to get bigger things.”
Harris eventually won NL Rookie of the Month for three of his four months after his debut.
His big contract: Aug. 16, 2022
Harris grew up a Braves fan. He’s as big of an Atlanta sports fan as you’ll find. He dreamed of wearing the Braves’ uniform and cap.
Which is what made August so special.
The Braves gave Harris an eight-year, $72 million contract extension. It includes a $15 million club option for 2031, with a $5 million buyout, and then a $20 million club option for 2032, with a $5 million buyout.
“I wasn’t even two months into my rookie year, and I was being asked about a contract,” Harris said. “It was kind of crazy. It didn’t really change my mindset or anything. I just still want to go out there the same. I guess money’s money, but I still went out there and played the same regardless. I’m glad to be here for the next eight years now.”
By all accounts, Harris is humble. He’s a team-first player. And he cares about winning for Atlanta.
Sometimes, money changes players. You probably don’t need to worry about this with Harris.
The deal provided him with financial security at 21 years old.
“For me, it was just stability and being able to play free,” Harris said. “Having the financial stability for my family and, I guess, my family to come. I’m in Atlanta. I grew up here. So being able to stay home and play for a team that I loved and just get paid to do that, it’s kind of something that I couldn’t really pass up on.”
Harris also used his platform and financial means to impact the community. Last season, he donated to help those affected by the Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis. And at the end of last year, he founded the Catch 23 Foundation, which, according to its Twitter account, focuses on “combating the stigma of mental illness, eradicating the growing problem of homelessness, and promoting diversity and inclusion.”
“That’s just always the guy I’ve been. I give back,” Harris said. “If somebody asked me for $1, I got you. Give you a dollar. I feel like a lot more people in this world should try to give back and help others. I feel like if you help, you get it back in some way, somehow. I don’t really care to get it back. But as long as I see somebody else smiling, somebody else being able to do something because of my impact, it kind of puts a smile on my face, too.”
Rookie of the Year Award: Nov. 14, 2022
Leading to the award announcement, Harris and teammate Spencer Strider knew one of them would win. They just didn’t know who.
They were rooting for each other.
“He sent me a text before saying that I was gonna win, and I did the same thing to him,” Harris said. “We just love competing, and we didn’t really care who won. We knew we both gave it our all and did what we could for the team. … It was a crazy rookie year last year for a lot of people. To even be mentioned in the top three of rookies last year was something huge for us.”
Members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted Harris first and Strider second in the NL.
Jackie Robinson’s name is on the award, which made it extra special for Harris.
“He’s the reason why I’m able to play this game right now,” Harris said. “To win an award named after him early in my career, it says a lot about the sacrifice he made and how much it means to other players like me, to be able to win an award like that, and just have a chance to play this game.”
The ups and downs of baseball: 2023
Baseball is a game built on failure. The best players experience the valleys that follow the peaks.
Of course, Harris already knew this.
But he’s getting more experience with it this season. As of this writing, he’s batting .165 with a .479 OPS. His manager recently gave him a day off for a mental break during his slump. Earlier this season, he spent a few weeks on the injured list with a lower back strain. He missed a couple of games because of a jammed knee.
“You can be 30-for-30, and then the next day, you go 0-for-5 with five strikeouts,” Harris said. “I just know it’s baseball. It’s just about how much luck you can get. I mean, there’s nine people out there playing defense against you. It’s just: Can you get the ball to hit a spot that they’re not standing in and generate runs and momentum? But I’ve just been trying to find other ways to make an impact since I haven’t been having the best luck.”
Harris hasn’t taken his struggles on offense to his defense. In the field, he’s showcased his arm and range. He’s working hard to get hot at the plate.
“It’s just another young talented guy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Harris. “These guys, they go through times that they haven’t experienced yet. They don’t have a whole lot of experience to draw on. I look at Michael, too. That injury, I think, hurt him a lot, (with) just getting those regular at-bats, and now he’s going to start doing that. They’re working really hard. He’s willing to put the work in. Because we know how talented he is and what he can do when he gets going. It’s a learning process for him, too.”
His favorites from the past year
To this point, Harris’ favorite moment in the majors was clinching the NL East.
His favorite game was the series finale Sept. 11 in Seattle, a game in which he blasted two home runs – including a three-run shot to bring the Braves within a run in the ninth. The Braves actually took the lead, but Kenley Jansen blew a save. “Even though we lost, we still came back,” Harris said.
His favorite hit is the first one.
His favorite home run came in August when he blasted a game-tying solo shot off a lefty in the ninth inning in Miami.
One year down, many more to come. Harris still has a lot of milestones to reach and memories to make.
In 2021, he attended the Braves’ World Series parade at Truist Park as a fan.
He hopes to one day experience one as a player.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said.
“I want it.”
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