KJ Harrison had plenty of confidence when he took to the field for the first time as a member of the Oregon State baseball team on Feb. 13.
Harrison had put in the work throughout fall ball and coach Pat Casey and the rest of the staff had enough faith in the freshman to start him at first base — he’s listed as a catcher — and bat him third in the lineup in the season opener against Northwestern.
For just a moment, they may have been rethinking that decision after his first at-bat — Harrison saw three pitches and went down on strikes.
“First at-bat, you’ve got those jitters, just so anxious,” Harrison recalled on Tuesday afternoon after practice. “I still remember my first at-bat, I was pretty overwhelmed. Wow.”
But Harrison’s philosophy is to put the past — good or bad — in the back of his mind and move on. It’s the philosophy that is needed when it comes to baseball, a sport where failure is more prevalent than success.
Two at-bats later, Harrison put that mindset to good use as he ripped a triple to right-center field and scored on a double by Billy King to tie the game at 1-1 in the sixth inning.
“I still remember diving into third and looking at everyone cheering,” Harrison said. “It was a real confidence booster, that’s for sure, to get that first hit in the first game.”
It was the beginning of a sensation 10 days in Surprise, Arizona, where Harrison’s play may have been the biggest surprise of the two tournaments for the Beavers.
Harrison hit safely in all eight games and helped OSU to a 5-3 record. He leads the club with a .441 average (15 for 34), as well as in home runs (4) and RBIs (13). He also has two doubles and two triples.
Maybe it wasn’t so much of a surprise.
“He’s been raking for the last couple months so we we’re all expecting him to have a couple pretty good weekends,” junior center fielder Jeff Hendrix said. “We were a little surprised to see it but, to be honest, I think a lot of us knew that he had that in him.”
On Monday, Harrison was named the Pac-12’s player of the week and Tuesday he was tabbed the National College Baseball Writers Association’s national hitter of the week.
“He put up some big numbers,” Casey said. “You don’t go down there thinking you’re going to hit four balls out but I thought he would go down there and be a force and that’s why we put him in the 3-hole as a freshman. I don’t think he’s scared at all.
“I’m really happy for him because he’s put in a lot of hard work and has gotten better and he swung the bat well down there.”
The awards are great and all, and Harrison is appreciative of the recognition, but he knows they mean nothing heading into the next game.
That happens to be Friday night under the lights at Goss Stadium when the Beavers take on Grambling State at 5:35 p.m. The teams meet for a doubleheader at 1:05 p.m. Friday.
Harrison said it’s going to be “unbelievable” playing in Goss.
“I talked to some of the older guys and they say it’s the best feeling ever and I can’t wait for it,” he said.
Harrison has wanted to be a member of the Oregon State baseball program — which he described as “amazing” — since the time he started being recruited back in his sophomore year at Punahou High in Kailua, Hawaii.
He was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 25th round of last year’s MLB draft, but knew OSU was the place for him and decided not to sign with the Indians.
“Coming here was always what I wanted to do,” Harrison said. “I felt like coming here would give me the best opportunity to mature as a player and as a person and just better my skills overall. This is a great place to do it and I’m just thankful to be here.”
So is Casey, who said Harrison needs to be penciled in in the middle of the order the rest of the season.
“We’re happy and I think he’s probably happy he’s here,” Casey said. “He’s developing and learning the game and he’s a talented young man.”
Harrison comes from a solid pedigree as his father, Kenny Harrison, was an All-American at Hawaii and played for the Minnesota Twins and Pittsburgh Pirates organizonations, as well as playing professionally in Japan.
KJ calls his father his top role model.
“He’s always been that mentor, that No. 1 guy for me and I can’t thank him enough for that,” he said.
The younger Harrison is making a name for himself already, and has already drawn some comparisons to a recent former OSU great – Michael Conforto, who was the 10th overall pick in last year’s draft by the New York Mets.
“He’s been fun to watch in the first couple of weekends,” Hendrix said of Harrison. “I’ve already her some comparisons, actually, between him and Mike and it will be fun to see just how he ends up playing this year and the next couple years.”