Sep 11, 2012
Lancaster Barnstormers outfielder Ryan Harvey is strong, very strong. How strong? So strong that in a game against the Somerset Patriots on Sunday, he hit a home run while breaking his bat.
So strong that his teammate J.D. Durbin, impressed by Harvey's monster home runs in spring training batting practice, gave him the nickname, "Thor."
So strong that he has accumulated more feet of home-run distance this season than anyone has accomplished in any previous 'Stormers season.
Sure there have been other Lancaster batters who have hit jaw-dropping bombs during the team's eight seasons. Ryan Minor in the Barnstormers' first season and Fernando Seguignol last year, to name two. But no Barnstormer has hit home runs as far as Harvey with such consistency.
So when Harvey comes to the plate, pay attention. His teammates certainly do.
"When we see how far those balls are hit, we're in the dugout and guys are in shock," Lancaster pitcher John Halama said. "They're saying, 'Did you see that?' "
Harvey's homer Sunday gave him 26 for the season, which is second in the Atlantic League. He has 12 homers in his last 18 games. At one point he homered in six straight games, a franchise record.
'Stormers skipper Butch Hobson has been amazed at the long balls Harvey has hit. "Nobody's hit any balls like he's hit this year. He hit one in Somerset (before Sunday) that was halfway up a light pole and it was still rising."
He's also hit them in York, Southern Maryland and, of course, in numerous home games.
"I've never seen anybody hit balls that far," Lancaster hitting coach Lance Burkhart said.
Harvey has 73 RBIs, which was eighth in the league before Monday's games. He's helping the Barnstormers to a record-breaking season while having a career year against the most difficult competition he has ever faced.
"It's a good feeling to know that your teammates and your coaches and your fans actually expect to see something spectacular," he said. "It's kind of like I don't want to disappoint anybody. It makes me focus that much harder. I don't like to let my teammates down."
Harvey was a bonus baby for the Cubs in 2003. Taken by Chicago with the sixth overall pick, he played in that organization through 2008 but never got higher than Double-A.
He was plagued with injury problems. "I always had back spasms or I was always straining or pulling my hamstrings," he said. "It was one thing after another. They eventually got to a point where they wondered, 'Is he ever going to stay healthy?' "
The Cubs released him in spring training of 2009 and he signed with Colorado. Near the end of his time with the Rockies, he attempted a position change to pitcher (something he hadn't done since high school).
And he went to spring training with the Red Sox as a pitcher in 2011, but injuries also derailed that since he suffered from bicep tendinitis.
Last December, still having the issue with his bicep, he decided to go back to playing the outfield, which is how he ended up with the Barnstormers.
After starting slowly (he had not batted in almost two years and he had early-season injuries to his calf and hamstring), he has really come on of late.
He had a 13-game hitting streak that ended Thursday and he had a stretch of nine straight games in which he had an RBI, a Barnstormers record.
Harvey does have 113 strikeouts, and a high K total is expected of home run hitters.
But he has not just been a hit-or-miss guy. Although he has become known for those prodigious shots, he's batting .311, sixth in the league through Sunday.
"He's just a very strong and powerful man," Hobson said. "And he's going to strike out, power hitters are going to swing and miss. But I think his average is better because he's becoming more consistent in making more contact with two strikes."
Both his average and home run total are career highs and this is in a league with a huge number of ex-major leaguers and Triple-A players. His previous career highs in those categories were in Class A ball.
Harvey, 28, attributes his success to having fun again for the first time (on and off the field because of the atmosphere in the Barnstormers' clubhouse) since high school and a maturity he didn't have in earlier seasons.
"You have to put in the work," he said. "You have to keep your swing and focus each day."
As for the near future, he would like to help the Barnstormers win a championship. And after that?
"I want to go back to affiliated ball and I want to take my shot at getting to the big leagues again," he said.
Judging by his stats this season, he should get his chance.