New Saint has learned to cope with change

SOECharlesHallmansquareThis column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.

Alonzo Harris stands out from his new St. Paul Saints teammates, as he is the only Black player on the team’s 27-man roster. “It is not an issue with me, says Harris on being the Only One. “I love to play baseball.”

Al Newman, the former Minnesota Twins utility man and coach who’s in his second season as a special instructor with the Saints, chuckled when the MSR pointed out that he, Harris, and this reporter were the only Blacks on the field during last Saturday’s media day. “I kind of don’t pay attention any more. It’s become the norm,” he simply noted.

Alonzo Harris
Alonzo Harris

“We go after the best possible players — Black [or] White,” added Saints Manager George Tsamis when asked later.

The 26-year-old, 5’-11” converted outfielder from Mississippi, a state known more for football and basketball than baseball, explained, “My father put me in baseball, and I found a love for the game. I started getting pretty good at it. Next thing you know, I got an opportunity to play professional baseball. There it is — I’m playing professional baseball.”

Harris was drafted out of high school by the New York Mets in the 39th and final round of the 2007 MLB draft. “I was with the Mets for seven years,” he said. “I’ve got up to double-A. I’ve played every level with the Mets, from rookie ball to low-A to single A to double-A. It’s been hard work.”

Harris, however, was released by the Mets last season and joined the Miami Marlins organization. He hit .290 with seven home runs and 52 RBIs in 89 games for the New Jersey Jackals, who finished their league as runners-up. He also stole 34 bases, including a nine-game stretch in August when he stole at least one base. He has stolen at least 15 bases each season since 2009, including a career-high 40 in 2012.

He then became the proverbial “player to be named later” in a September 2014 trade between the Saints and the Jackals that capped off a year of shocks, he recalled.

“I was with the Mets for seven years, and it was like a family. I knew all the coaches and the staff. It was weird, because I never went through that [before],” said the outfielder, who then moved on to New Jersey and played in the league championship series last summer.

“I figured out how to cope with it. You can’t be somewhere forever and play well wherever I go,” he said. “I got very little opportunities, but once you get your opportunity, you have to be ready to play and not complain about it.”

Then the season’s second shock hit: “My manager called me over and said I got traded,” said Harris.

Now, he’s a Saint.

“It’s a new beginning, a new team, a start to a new season,” declared Harris.

“Over the years we’ve lost some speed,” said Tsamis. “He [Harris] will be at the top of the order. We’re looking for 35-40 stolen bases, and we expect him to be a big part of the lineup. We’re very excited to have Alonzo. He is going to be an exciting player for us.”

Harris pledges he will continue to “play hard and respect everybody” in his quest to reaching “The Show” someday. “That’s my goal,” he concludes.

 

Next week: More on the St. Paul Saints, their new season in their new ballpark

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.