When I was a little kid, I idolized professional ballplayers. Being from Los Angeles and growing up in the late 80s to early 90s, Magic Johnson was my favorite basketball player; Bo Jackson was my favorite football player; Wayne Gretzky was my favorite hockey player; and Lenny Harris was my favorite baseball player. If you’re thinking to yourself “one of these things is not like the other”, well, you’re right. Because Lenny Harris was much more than a ballplayer. Let me explain.
One of my favorite things to do every morning was to sit in the kitchen and read the newspaper with my parents. I would read the sports section, obviously, and the business section to follow the stocks of companies I liked (I wasn’t just a nerd for sports). One day when I was 8 years old, I came across an article about Dodger Lenny Harris in the Los Angeles Times. It’s still worth a read, probably more than this one you’re reading if we’re being honest with ourselves.
The gist of the article is that baseball wasn’t something Lenny Harris did for fun. He did it for money to help his family, many members of which were struggling to get by. Harris’ play reflected his mentality. He was all effort, all the time. I loved it.
While I didn’t come from a neighborhood like Lenny Harris and his family did, his story struck a chord with me. I saw my parents working hard to make sure my family had what we needed and Lenny Harris was doing the same thing. Only he played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and made his living that way. Lenny Harris became more than a baseball player to me. He became another one of my heroes, someone like my parents, worth looking up to.
The next week my Mom took me to the baseball card shop. I loved going to the baseball card shop. It was heaven to me and not just because the owner, Matt, had a friendly German Shepherd named “Koufax.” When I went there, it was like the history of baseball coming to life. I would look at cards of guys like Micky Mantle, Ted Williams, and Sandy Koufax for hours on end, mystified every time I did.
On that particular occasion, Matt was helping me and asked me who my favorite player was. Without missing a beat, I responded with “Lenny Harris.” The answer caught Matt off guard. Obviously not the answer he was expecting. He asked me why. So I explained to him that Lenny Harris was a hard worker who played so that his family could have money to live and eat and that I was rooting for him. Matt told me to wait for a second. He scoured through one of the boxes in his shop, found the card he was looking for, put it in a plastic sleeve and gave it to me. “Here you go”, he said. It was Lenny Harris’ rookie card. “Wow! How much do I owe you?” He didn’t want my money. He just liked my answer he said.
I’m not sure what made me think of Lenny Harris or the baseball card shop story today. But when I think about Lenny Harris I think about all of my fond memories rooting for him when I was a kid. He was a solid ballplayer in his playing days and I would imagine that he is a great person to have leading a managerial staff today. He’s currently the bench coach for the Daytona Tortugas, the Cincinnati Reds’ Class A Advanced Affiliate.
When you think about pro sports, it’s crazy the amount pressure the athletes deal with day to day. Add to that the pressure that so many of them face off of the field and maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to judge them when things aren’t going quite right. Maybe we should take a little time to learn about these men and women who entertain us so much with their unbelievable athletic talent. Try reaching out to them to tell them that they’re appreciated. Your message may never reach them, but maybe it will. And maybe it will make their days just a little better. We could all use a little boost in our daily lives. How about using the Internet and social media for good for a change?
So to Lenny Harris I say thank you for being you and for giving a kid so many years of happy memories rooting you on and looking up to you. I have always been proud to call you my favorite player.