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Saturday, July 5, 1997

Cricket centerfielder once considered Rangers' bright hope

By Lance Fleming / Abilene Reporter-News

Donald Harris was once considered the bright hope for a failing Texas Rangers' farm system. Instead, he now finds himself as the starting centerfielder for the Lubbock Crickets.

Texas drafted the former Texas Tech standout with the No. 5 pick in the 1989 major league amateur draft - one pick behind former Prairie Dog Paul Coleman and one pick in front of Frank Thomas - with the hopes that he would become the all-star centerfielder the Rangers have never had.

But those hopes died when the Rangers released him in spring training 1995 because Harris wouldn't cross the picket line and join the replacement players.

"I got released in 1995 because I wouldn't cross," Harris said before Friday's game against Abilene. "And then all of a sudden I was out of baseball because of some bullcrap. I thought someone would give me a chance and that I'd get picked up, but it didn't happen."

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the release is that Harris was having his best Triple-A season with the Oklahoma City 89ers in 1994. Through July he had hit 15 home runs, and was expecting a September call-up to the Rangers when the players went on strike. He hit one home run in August and his career with the Rangers essentially ended after that.

"I was expecting that call-up and then the strike hit," Harris said. "After that I didn't really have anything to play for, and I hit one home run in August. That's the most disappointing part of my career."

Harris served three stints with the Rangers, playing a total of 82 games with a batting average of .205 (24 for 117), 17 runs scored and two home runs.

But even with the low batting average, Harris doesn't believe he ever got a fair shot with the Rangers.

"I played for three different managers (Bobby Valentine, Toby Harrah and Kevin Kennedy), and all three of them were more worried about saving their own job," Harris said. "I was up every time the team was struggling, and I was never given a chance to play regularly. If I had been given the chance to play every day and play the way I'm capable of playing, I would have been fine. They've given guys like Benji Gil the opportunity to play every day, but I never really got that chance."

After his release from the Rangers, Harris ended up playing independent baseball for the Bend (Ore.) Bandits of the Western League.

After playing 1-1/2 seasons in Oregon he asked for a trade, and was sent to Lubbock.

"I wanted to play closer to home," Harris said. "I was getting re-married and I had my child, and I just wanted to get back to home and try to finish school."

Harris, however, said all his bitterness about the Rangers is in the past, and he's only looking forward to finishing school (he still lacks about three semesters to get his teaching degree) and getting on with his life.

"I'm 29 years old, so getting back into organized ball isn't something I ever really think about," he said. "But I figure that I'll continue to play as long as I love the game. I don't want to leave the game too soon and wonder if I'll miss it. When I know I don't love the game anymore is when I'll leave it."


The Prairie Dogs close out the first half of the season tonight with their third straight game against the Lubbock Crickets.

John Baack (2-3, 6.80 ERA) will get the start for Abilene, and he'll be opposed by Alonso Beltran (3-2, 4.94 ERA).

Tonight's promotion is Prairie Dogs Thermo Lunch Bag Night, sponsored Wendy's, KRBC-TV and Q100 FM. The first 2,000 fans through the gate will receive a free lunch bag.

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