The first time Bryan Harvey, resident of Catawba, N.C., saw the Santa Ana Freeway at rush hour, he said, “I didn’t know there was that many people in the world!”
The first time Bryan Harvey, pitcher of baseballs, looked down from the mound at Jose Canseco, the Oakland Athletics slugger might just as well have been a 35-year-old, good ol’ boy truck driver with the name of the local feed store on his jersey.
There’s awe and then there’s awe.
You see, Harvey feels a lot more at home on a baseball diamond--whether it’s a sandlot in the North Carolina backwoods or a multimillion dollar showpiece in one of America’s largest urban centers--than he does on a crowded freeway . . . even though a gridlock pace is more his style.
“Where I was raised, there’s nothing like the fast pace of California,” Harvey said. “There ain’t no hurry back in the country ‘cause there’s nothin’ goin’ on.”
Except maybe a friendly little game of baseball. A friendly little game that can launch a guy into the big leagues, big money and big pressure.
Of course, Harvey had no illusions about the big time when he agreed to pitch a game for Mooresville in a North Carolina semipro tournament five years ago. And he had no idea that word of his Bob Gibson imitation during that game was going to reach Angel scout Alex Cosmidas and result in a tryout.
The way Cosmidas tells it, Harvey threw about 20 pitches at the radar gun during that tryout. All were at least 90 m.p.h., each faster than the one before, and all strikes.
“That story gets bigger every time someone tells it or writes about it,” Harvey said, smiling. “I threw about 20 pitches all right and most were probably over 90. But no way were they all strikes.”
Harvey has a nasty little forkball to complement the heater now. And he does throw mostly strikes these days.
But it’s what hasn’t changed about Bryan Harvey in the last five years that has made him what Angel Manager Doug Rader calls “probably the most important player on this club.”
“Bryan’s a real hick and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense,” Rader said. “He’s the most down-to-earth guy I’ve ever met. Anybody who can stand to eat okra can’t be too bad.
“He’s got the perfect makeup for a short-relief guy. Rollie Fingers was the same way. He didn’t know where he was. And Bryan’s got the stuff to back it up.”
How about unconscious?
“Somebody’s going to have to notify Bryan to get excited when he makes the All-Star team,” reliever Greg Minton said. “Laid back? If Bryan was the only guy you’d ever met from North Carolina, you’d wonder how anything ever got done in that state. But it’s the perfect disposition for a reliever.
“If the starters can go five or six good innings this season and then we do our job as set-up guys, we can wake up Bryan in the seventh to let him get ready to do his job, and he’ll slam the door shut.”
For the first time in his life, Minton has resigned himself to a role as a set-up man because, for the first time in his life, he’s on a team with a closer he admits is better-suited to shut that door.
“When I was with the Giants, I didn’t think anyone was better,” he said. “And I didn’t think (Angels DeWayne) Buice or (Donnie) Moore were better the last couple of years here.
“This is the first time I’m going to be working set-up for a quality closer. And my goal this season is to make Bryan Harvey a rich man.”
Harvey, 25, says he isn’t setting any specific goals--monetary or otherwise--but if you press him, he will admit that “30 (saves) is a nice round number.”
Still, he insists he’s going to take it one batter at a time and not worry about the numbers game.
Harvey sits in front of his locker stall and listens intently while his manager’s latest testimony to his importance is read back to him:
“When you look at how thin we are in short relief, then you know just how vitally important Bryan is to this team. When you look at the other people on this team who can fill that role, therein lies Bryan’s value.”
“I’m not goin’ to go out puttin’ any pressure on myself,” he said. “I’ll just give ‘em 100% and hope the best comes out of it. Whatever happens, I’m going to live with it.
“I’m human. Inside, I may feel (pressure) more than I show it on the outside. But when you’re up there on the hill, you better not be frettin’ ‘bout who’s at the plate or how important the game is or you’re already in trouble. You just gotta get the batter out.”
That, of course, is an area in which Harvey excelled last season. His earned-run average was 2.13 and opposing hitters managed just a .214 batting average. Opponents scored more than one earned run against him in just five of his 50 appearances. He came away with 17 saves and finished second in the rookie of the year voting to Oakland shortstop Walt Weiss.
Is there anyway to go but down?
Surely, Harvey has considered the possibility of a less-productive season in 1989, but you can bet the tobacco farm he hasn’t lost any sleep over it.
“I had a good year last year, but I can’t live on last year,” he said. “I can use it as a confidence-builder and try to carry over that confidence, but I still have to go out and get ‘em this time around.”
Harvey began the 1988 season in the minors and he ended it on the disabled list. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove two bone chips on Sept. 21. Now, he says his arm feels as good as it ever did . . . and one heck of a lot better than it did after the last day he pitched late last summer.
“I knew something was going on in there,” he said, pointing to his elbow. “A couple of mornings after I pitched, it completely locked up on me. I could still pitch, but after that Sunday, when I gave up that grand slam and we still won, I knew somethin’ had to be done.”
Harvey’s rehabilitation went right on schedule. He rested until Thanksgiving, threw a little and rested some more before coming to Anaheim to work out in January. This spring, the radar gun is again showing the kinds of numbers that would earn you a trip to the courthouse and a fat fine if a highway patrolman was aiming it at your sports car.
“The doctors told me (the procedure) wasn’t too complicated, but you always wonder in the back of your mind if you’ll have the same pop after surgery. They’ve been tellin’ me to take it a little easy this spring, but when I get on the mound, I give it all that day, spring training or not. And it feels pretty good so far.”
Rader hasn’t been overjoyed with a lot of his pitching staff’s performances this spring, but he certainly seems pleased with what he has seen from Harvey.
“I’ve been trying to stay away from preconceived notions, but Bryan’s lived up to all his press clippings so far,” Rader said. “He could get 30 saves, or more, depending on how the pitching staff sets up. We’d like to be able to use him only in save situations.
“He’s got the fastball, the forkball and he throws strikes. Those are three great steps to being a great reliever.”
And don’t forget the perfect disposition.
Minton strikes a casual pose and lapses into his Harvey impersonation with as thick a drawl as he can muster:
“Ah got two pitches, son, here comes one or the other and you ain’t agonna hit neither one.”
Nice try, Greg, but could you add a little more deep South to that accent.
“There ain’t nobody here who talks like I do,” Harvey said.
And there ain’t nobody here who throws like he does, so everyone with a halo on his hat is hoping he stays healthy. Harvey, of course, insists his role isn’t nearly all that vital.
“There’s no pressure on me,” Harvey said. “I’ve got a job to do and if I don’t do it, they’ll get someone who will.”
Look around, Harv, big-time closers don’t grow on trees--the semipro sandlots seldom bear fruit of Harvey’s quality--and the Angel bullpen isn’t overflowing with potential Hall of Famers.
Rader and Co. are more than satisfied with their star right-hander’s matter-of-fact approach, though. They’re still afraid he might wake up and realize where he is.