The Lancaster Barnstormers are back in the pennant race, and it's no coincidence that they started their push when slugger Ryan Harvey came off the disabled list.
The Barnstormers right fielder hurt his left thumb trying to make a catch in Southern Maryland on June 13.
A month later, he made his return when the Barnstormers were 1-5 in the season's second half and in last place in the Freedom Division. Since then, they've gone 19-9 (through Friday) and climbed to second place, four games behind the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Their success hasn't entirely depended on Harvey, but he's been a big part of it. In a span of 10 games, Harvey hit three grand slams, the most ever by a Barnstormer in a career or season. He connected for a grand slam against Southern Maryland on July 26, hit one at Sugar Land on July 29 and then hit a mammoth blast at Camden on Aug. 4 that a Riversharks grounds crew member measured to be 476 feet.
"I'm trying to make up for lost time," Harvey joked after hitting his third grand slam since coming back from a month on the DL.
Harvey's teammates marvel at his power. Even the club's ex-major leaguers watch in awe when he takes batting practice.
"I've never seen anybody hit a ball like that, and I've seen a lot of big hitters," Barnstormers manager Butch Hobson said.
Harvey did the same thing for the Barnstormers last season. He crushed massive home runs (his 27 homers ranked second in the Atlantic League) but he also hit .302, which was ninth in the league.
As a reward, he was signed in the offseason and went to spring training with the Atlanta Braves.
But he didn't get much of a shot. After getting hurt at the beginning of camp, he got very few at-bats before being released.
"They bring guys in like that and a lot of times they've already made up their mind and they don't give them a chance to win a spot," Hobson said.
When the Braves cut him, they told him it was because he was a "one-dimensional player."
"You kind of use it as motivation and go out there and try to prove people wrong," Harvey said. "It's a shame, but you can't really do anything about it. And it's just going to be harder for you if you continue to look back and dwell on it."
"He's a good outfielder," Hobson said. "He's not just a power guy. He hit over .300 last year. He's a streaky hitter, and he strikes out a lot, but that's they way power hitters are. And he's a very good defensive outfielder. He's got a great arm."
Harvey returned to Lancaster, where he was part of the Barnstormers' record-setting 93-win team last season.
"I told Butch, if nothing panned out in spring training, or if no affiliated teams wanted me, I wanted to come back because last year I had such a fun time. And this year is right up there with that, with last year. Great clubhouse, everybody pulls for each other, everybody tries to help each other win."
A notoriously slow starter, Harvey was actually having a good first half, hitting .286 with 15 home runs before he got hurt. And there was some interest from MLB organizations.
But now, with only about three weeks left in the affiliated minor league season, it appears he will be with the 'Stormers the rest of the this year.
"I would like to get back to affiliated ball, but I'm still here," He said. "I'm still playing baseball, so I can't really complain too much about that."
The Barnstormers certainly aren't complaining. In his last 17 games, he has 28 RBIs. Including last year's playoffs, he has hit 53 homers and has 149 RBIs in his last 158 games.
"He's a person in the middle of our lineup that other teams don't want to pitch to," Hobson said of the former first-round pick (sixth overall) by the Cubs in 2003. "We missed him when he was out hurt. When he's swinging the bat good, he can carry our team a couple, three weeks."
And maybe into the playoffs.