Inside Pitch Live with Willie Harris

Willie Harris spent some time prior to Saturday’s game in the PNC Diamond Club, fielding questions from fans and  moderator Dave Jageler for another installment of Inside Pitch Live:

inside pitch-willie harris.jpgHow do you approach pinch hitting and have so much success, as you did Friday night when you hit a home run as a pinch hitter?

My mindset is sort of like a leadoff hitter. I treat it like I’m leading off the game, even though it’s the eighth inning, or the seventh, or the ninth and I’m facing the closers and the setup man. I don’t think people really understand how tough that is. You’ve been sitting on the bench for eight innings and now you’re asked to go up and give a good at bat against closers, Broxtons and guys who throw 97, 98 miles an hour. but you know that comes with the territory. That’s my job and I take pride in it. I go out there and give it my best effort every time.

You’ve made several game-ending defensive plays over the years, especially against the New York Mets, you always seem to do it to. Of all the great catches you’ve made since you’ve been with us, is there one that stands out as a favorite?

Yes, it was the one at Shea Stadium. I think Jon Rauch was on the mound. Ryan Church hit a looping, lazy fly ball down the left field line. I had to run a long way and made a diving play. I think about that catch sometimes when I get down and out and it picks me back up and makes me believe in myself all over again. I think that’s the best one.

You had a great one earlier this season to save a game at the Mets. I went into the park the next day and my buddy who works in the Mets scoreboard room turns to me in the ninth inning and says, “I think we’re going to win it, as long as we don’t hit it to Willie Harris.” They know. You’re in their heads.

It feels good to get that type of respect around the game. The next day, Rod Barajas came up to me and told me, “Willie, David Wright told me to hit the ball anywhere except for left field.” That makes me feel good. It makes me feel good to know guys around the league know what type of outfielder I am. For the most part, it’s for my pitchers. I try to make plays for my pitchers because I know how hard it is to go out there and try to get a guy out, so I try to make it as easy as possible for our pitchers.

When you get on base, what are you and the first baseman talking about? What’s that exchange like?

For the most part, it’s, “How’ve you been doing?” “Hey Dave, how you doing, man? How’s the season been going for you?” That’s it.

Who are some of the talkative guys? It seems like the other team is always chatting up Dunn. Or Dunn’s chatting them up.

Yeah, Dunn’s a big time chatter. I think the guy around the league who really talks the most is Ryan Howard. He’s always referring to you as, “Hi, Mr. Harris,” or “Hi, Mr. Morgan,” or whoever the guy on first base is. Prince Fielder is pretty silent. You’re not going to get a lot of words out of Prince. He’s a lot bigger than I am, so I just go ahead and take my lead and leave him alone. For the most part, everybody’s pretty friendly.

If you could pick any position to play every day, which would it be?

Second base. I came up through the Minor Leagues as a second baseman, made it to the Big Leagues with the White Sox playing second base. I refer to it is second base is like staying at home and going to the outfield is like staying at a hotel. Second base is my natural position. Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to play there this year. But we still have five weeks left. Who knows what may happen?

We all know you can hit the long ball, but when you have to put down the bunt, you’re very capable of that too. Have you thought about maybe training some of our pitchers on how you bunt?

No I haven’t thought about that. You know, bunting is something that people feel should be very easy. It’s not easy at all. You’ve got guys throwing 93 miles an hour sinkers, cutters, the ball’s moving all over the place. Granted, we all feel like the pitcher should get the bunt down, but if he doesn’t, don’t give up on him. Just try to understand what you’re asking the guy to do. It’s not as easy as it looks.

You are a very professional player, a role model for a lot of the younger guys. Your presence is probably very important to a young club. How do you work with the other guys to get them better?

I pick my spots. I know the younger guys. I know they look up to me. I’m not having the type of year that I would like to have personally, but I know that those younger guys look at me to see how I handle it. So that way, when they go through their struggles and their problems, they know how to handle it. You never get down on yourself. You always stay upbeat and you try to stay even keeled. I look at it as, I’m going to have more good days than bad days. Baseball is a game of failure. You go up to hit 10 times and you get three hits, you’re a star, even though you made seven outs. It’s a game of failure. So when things aren’t going so well, you have to remember it’s going to get better. I just pick my spots. I’ve had talks with Desmond. I’ve pulled him to the side and chewed him out a couple of times, Bernadina. I’ve had talks with those guys, so that when they do get to a point where they go on a 0-for-8 or 0-for-nine skid, they know how to handle it and it doesn’t wear them down mentally.

Who’s the toughest starting pitcher you’ve faced?

There’s a few. I don’t want to miss anybody. Chris Carpenter the other night was really good, Lincecum…Ubaldo Jimenez, there you go. He’s the toughest one of them all. Him and Strasburg and pretty similar actually–they both throw hard, they’re both big guys. I think Ubaldo Jimenez is the toughest pitcher I’ve faced this year.

Who have you had real success against? Not to say, “Hey, I want to hit against this guy,” because it may change, of course.

I’ve had success against Jair Jurrjens from the Braves. And he’s a really good pitcher. They’re all good pitchers. Some days you’re going to get him, some days he’s going to get you. You just have to keep going and keep grinding and keep battling out.

How much time do you spend watching video and prepping for games?

At the beginning of every series, when we’re playing a team that we haven’t played for awhile or a team that we haven’t played this year, all the hitters and the hitting coach and Jim Riggleman and the coaches, we have our meetings. We go over the pitchers. We go over how strong an outfielder’s arm is as opposed to another outfielder. We go over their lineup, who may bunt, who may hit and run. So we’re prepared. We do all the preparation work, but sometimes we go out onto the field and we just make too many mistakes.

We put the work in. People may say, “They need to work harder.” We make a lot of errors. We’ve got a lot of young guys. But at the same time, I don’t think we should be making mental errors. Errors are going to happen. It’s baseball. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to make errors. But I think we can cut down on the mental errors and take some of that pressure off our pitchers and quit giving teams extra outs to work with. Good teams like the Cardinals are going to take advantage of that. We just have to narrow that down and put it into better perspective.

If you hadn’t been a baseball player, what would you have been?

Football! That was easy. I was going to Florida State to play wide receiver, believe it or not, as small as I am, but I was blazing fast back then. What happened was, I got drafted in baseball and I realized, Willie, you’re not very big. You have safeties in the NFL twice my size and twice as fast as I am, so I figured I better go try to hit this ball and leave that football alone. Thank God, everything worked out well for me. I’m healthy and I’ve had a decent career.

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