Saturday, March 1, 2003

Daugherty: Clubhouse gags


It's all fun and games for Harnisch

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SARASOTA, Fla. - Where else can you go to work dressed only in shower sandals and a batting helmet?

One March day in 1999, or maybe it was '98 or 2000 (the years and the gags run together when you are Pete Harnisch), Pete Harnisch boarded a Reds team bus wearing what God gave him. Reds chief operating officer John Allen was on the bus. On Friday, Allen would neither confirm nor deny that. No matter.

"I'll confirm it," Harnisch said. "They kicked me off. I didn't have correct change."

He liked that gag. He also liked the time he took a shower on the sidewalk in front of the Reds offices at Ed Smith Stadium. The daily naked jumping jacks were Harnisch's idea, too. "Something for the guys in the training room," he said.

Peter Thomas Harnisch is a piece of work. Some of us forget that baseball, stripped of its labor wars and pouty superstars, is just a game. Harnisch never forgets. "I've always been an idiot," he said Friday. "I'm happy to be one. I just like to screw around."

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Pete Harnisch will throw batting practice Saturday.
(AP/Al Behrman photo)
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He's trying to come back from Tommy John surgery on his elbow. Harnisch went to spring training last year with the Colorado Rockies, threw 58-foot fastballs and had an MRI on Opening Day. "My elbow was blown up," Harnisch said.

His first impulse was to retire. His wife told him to have the surgery. Even if he never pitched again, he still could play golf or tennis. Then Harnisch got to thinking:

What if I decide a year from now I want to come back? How can I walk away not knowing if I could still pitch? Where else could I do naked jumping jacks and not get arrested?

"I really didn't wanna go out like that," Harnisch said. "Satisfying myself was a big part of it."

He's coming back for the competition, is what he says. But watching him work the room, you know it's a lot more than that. Harnisch struts through the locker-room subculture of towel-snappers and dirty jokesters, talking that Noo Yawk talk, his barrel chest preceding him like a truck bumper. He looks like he owns the joint. Which he does.

He's the guy at the all-night poker game, smoking the foot-long Cuban cigar and cracking wise about your bad haircut. Harnisch would miss the games, sure. But no more than the circus that surrounds them. Pete likes being Pete. Without the game, he's just Mr. Harnisch.

"My arm feels tremendous. I'm doing a little bit more than they thought I'd be doing," Harnisch said.

He has been through shoulder surgery and elbow surgery. He has battled depression. "I've been dealt some pretty bad cards in some spots." But he's here now. The arm works. His jokes are funny. He's 36 going on Dennis the Menace. The clubhouse is still home.

"If this arm gets healthy, I know I can pitch," Harnisch said. "I don't have any doubt."

Is Pete Harnisch going to make the Reds? Could he emerge from the current cast of millions as the fifth starting pitcher?

No telling. He will throw batting practice today, 75 pitches in 12 minutes, "as hard as I want." He'll wake up Sunday morning hoping his elbow doesn't hurt. And he'll go from there. Along the way, Harnisch will enjoy every minute. The clubhouse is lighter for his presence.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com




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