Ken Harvey was never the type of player to shy away from a battle during his playing days.
The fight to regain his health so he could once again claim the hitting coordinator position for the New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series Powered by Program 15 was no different.
“The first time Jeremy reached out to me, it was exactly what I had been wanting to do with my career as far as when I started helping kids goes,” Harvey told FutureStarsSeries.com
“It was the ultimate job I really wanted to do. But, other things came into play that didn’t allow me to, so I was really happy that everything worked out and came full circle.”
Those other things? The former Royals slugger was hospitalized with serious kidney issues, and the road back to being able to perform in such a demanding role has been a tough, but rewarding one. Without NBBFSS/P15 CEO Jeremy Booth, who had been friends with Harvey back in their high school days in Los Angeles, the story could have taken a far different turn.
“I just wasn’t feeling very good and it kept getting worse,” Harvey said. “Jeremy was the first one to recommend that I should go to the hospital, but most typical guys like myself, it was the last thing I wanted to do and I was avoiding it. I came to find out I had major kidney failure that was very serious. So, I devoted the last few years to that. I think playing and my baseball regimen has helped me — as well as some luck and blessings from the Lord – and it’s given me a new outlook. Everything is up and up from here on out. I know how Jeremy is, he’s very cautious and very business-savvy, so I waited until I was fully ready to go and way after before I even got a hold of him. I’m feeling amazing, no problems whatsoever.”
Harvey briefly held the hitting coordinator role in 2016 before those health issues forced him out of it, but outside of their personal relationship, his professional philosophies so aligned with Booth’s that it only seemed natural to reunite once the time was right.
“It was very instrumental, because I’d been in three or four of these partnerships or working with other people where I’d move to a different state and take on a different challenge, and it just didn’t work out,” Harvey said. “Once Jeremy reached out to me, I was in from the jump. We’re always on the same thought path with how things should be approached, and I knew he would let me put my own stamp on things, where other people want you to do it a certain way. In my eyes, no one hits the same. Everybody should be taught differently with their own movements. I knew it would be a good partnership.”
Booth couldn’t agree more.
“Both personally and professionally, ‘Harv’ was someone we really wanted for this from the get go,” he said. “We think the same way on a lot of things, and it just made a lot of sense to do this. I know he’s going to be a great fit.”
For a while, Harvey was a great fit with the Kansas City Royals as well; he burst onto the scene in 2003 for his first of two full big-league seasons that culminated with an MLB All-Star Game appearance in 2004, but saw his love for the game start to evaporate.
“It was probably one of my darkest times as far as not really loving the game, it was the first time it really turned into a business for me,” Harvey said. “But, who wouldn’t be excited to reach the pinnacle of baseball? I’d been playing since I was five, and have some good memories, but that ended on kind of a sour note.”
Injuries cut short Harvey’s big league career after just 271 games, with his body essentially robbing him of both stardom and a payday that ultimately never came.
“I guess the best way to put it is that it was back upon shoulder upon knee upon Achilles…I think I had seven or eight surgeries, and that part of it was very frustrating because I hadn’t really dealt with that my whole career,” Harvey said.
“It was one of those things where, ‘Why is this all happening right before I’m about to get paid?’ I was always thinking financially, and that was never really what I got into this game for. That aspect changed, and I wasn’t playing the game how I used to play it. I was a very religious guy, I grew up in church and all that, so I thought maybe this all just wasn’t meant for me. But the road coming back, I started playing independent ball, and I had the best time I’d ever had playing in my life. It was just sitting next to a guy who made probably peanuts compared to what I had, but he could enjoy the game and show me what a whiny baby I’d been over the years. I had the greatest time. The Lord puts us on paths that are meant for all of us, and I just think that was the path I had to travel.”
After a brief stay in the Minnesota Twins system, Harvey ended up finishing his career with the Northern League’s Kansas City T-Bones in 2008 and 2009 and Atlantic League’s Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in 2009.
“It was meant to be,” he said. “I just wasn’t having fun anymore. After the Achilles, I really wasn’t rehabbing like I should have been attacking it like I should have been; as far as being a bigger guy at the time who tears his Achilles, he should be on the strictest of diets and a workout regimen and I knew at the time my heart really wasn’t into it. I did a couple things in Colombia and Mexico, and I was just playing to be playing, it felt like. But once I played independent ball, it just seemed like that was my culmination. I was happy again playing, but my body was kind of giving out. It was still a very nice ending for me.”
His time in indy ball also unofficially started his time as an instructor; players who were either younger or had less experience in the game would often find themselves picking Harvey’s brain for valuable knowledge.
“I was getting that quite often,” he said. “I kept telling the guys – they would thank me for this and that, like for giving them nice wood that they’d probably never get – that they were doing way more for me than I am for you. They couldn’t understand that. At the time, Michael Tucker was on the team, and we were both kind of in a negative space. We were having complete fun. I kept saying to him that I hadn’t had this much fun since I took a bus ride with my high school teammates and you’re just joking around and want to play the game. That was a great time for me.”
During the final years of his career, Harvey got some good-natured grief for his All-Star Game appearance — “Nobody really ever asked me about that, it was more just kind of giving each other (grief), like, ‘Whatever, All-Star.’” – but it likely remains the moment that he’s best known for given the unique nature of his big-league time.
Yes, his appearance as the Royals representative in the annual midsummer classic was unlikely.
Then again, so were his chances to get to actually play in it, or at least that’s what he thought.
“You have snapshots of things, but I was just so in awe of my surroundings, so when you hear people say something like they didn’t get a chance to soak it all in, I really understand what that means,” Harvey said.
“It was great. My most vivid memory was Joe Torre talking to me, saying, ‘I’m going to try to get you in there,’ but I knew I probably wasn’t going to play. So, but he was saying how he’d seen me come up and all that, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Wow, this is (freaking) Joe Torre talking to me.’ But, it comes to about the third inning or so, and Randy Johnson comes in. None of the veterans wanted to pinch-hit off of him. So, all I hear from Torre is, ‘Harv, grab a bat.’ I had no idea I was going to be playing, so I went from chill mode to about ready to jump out of my shoes. Obviously, I was swinging out of my (rear end) and he struck me out on like five pitches. But it was a great experience to thinking I wasn’t going to do (anything) to being in the game in like five minutes, so that was cool.”
Now, Harvey can share those stories and plenty more with the next generation as he returns to the role that Booth always envisioned for him.
Welcome home, Ken.