For Harrison, it’s ‘play ball’

dmcqueen@lsjournal.comJune 11, 2014 

A Lincoln, Neb., radio station wanted to talk to Lee’s Summit West football coach Royce Boehm June 6, a day after the Major League Baseball amateur draft. Knowing what the No. 1 topic of conversation was going to be, Boehm decided he better give Monte Harrison a call.

“I wanted to get is straight from Monte’s mouth what he wanted me to say to them,” Boehm said. “So Monte said he wanted it to be a done deal even before he went to Nebraska. And he said my advisor’s going to take care of it today. So I said, ‘All right.’”

And just like that, the Cornhusker Nation learned that Harrison, the Titans’ much-heralded three-sport star, had picked professional baseball over college football and baseball.

Just two days after being selected No. 50 overall in the second round of the MLB draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, Harrison reportedly signed with the Brewers for a $1.8 million bonus. The Brewers hadn’t made the deal official as of Tuesday, but several sources have confirmed it.

It’s no real surprise Harrison chose baseball over football and basketball, all three of which he starred in at West. Before his senior season began last March, he told the Journal that baseball had become his favorite sport.

“It’s just something about it,” Harrison said. “Basketball two years ago was my favorite sport, but baseball has grown on me a lot just from traveling a lot, playing all the time and seeing just how better I got at it.”

What is surprising to some is how quickly the deal came about. He had until July 18 to sign or go to college.

But Harrison was also supposed to report to Nebraska by June 9. Danan Hughes, who has been an advisor and mentor to Harrison since he was nine years old, said Harrison didn’t want to keep the Cornhuskers hanging.

“They made an emphasis during draft time that they needed to get the deal done in 48 to 72 hours,” Hughes said. “And the Brewers drove in to town, sat down with him and got it done.”

Hughes, a baseball-football standout himself who played six years for the Kansas City Chiefs, said it also helped that the Brewers were aggressively going after their picks. Harrison’s signing bonus was $700,000 more than the amount slotted for that pick. Milwaukee also paid $450,000 more than was slotted to land Jacob Gatewood, a shortstop picked 41st overall from Clovis, Calif.

But before the Brewers made an offer, Hughes said they wanted to be sure Harrison would choose baseball. That question weighed heavily for several teams, which Hughes said accounted for Harrison falling out of the first round, where many analysts expected him to be selected.

“His athleticism actually worked against him,” Hughes said. “Major League Baseball loves only baseball players. In their minds, when a kid goes oh-for-20 in a slump, which every player does, that kid only has baseball and he has to fight through it.

“The perception with Monte with a lot of teams was when the slump comes, he can just pack up and go play football. Therefore a lot of teams thought they were rolling the dice.”

Harrison shouldn’t be a gamble for the Brewers. Hughes said the decision was Harrison’s alone. He decided how much he wanted, and how much it would take to make him forsake going to college.

“I’m satisfied with the outcome because he’s satisfied with the outcome,” Hughes said. “I’ve told people from the beginning that he was the best athlete I’ve seen in the last nine years.

“I emphasized to him there’s no wrong answer here. Everybody’s going to have opinions, but you have to do what you feel is best for you and what you’re going to be able to live with.”

Harrison’s first calls after inking the deal went to Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini and baseball coach Darin Erstad. Pelini, Boehm said, has made it clear all along that if things didn’t work out for Harrison in baseball, he still had a scholarship at Nebraska.

Hughes said Harrison had no plans of taking up that offer anytime soon. Harrison is scheduled to be in Milwaukee June 12, and from there he flies to Arizona for rookie ball before being assigned to one of the Brewers’ Class-A teams.

“I think Monte is totally 100 percent sold on playing professional baseball and he wants to play in the majors,” Hughes said. “Especially in athletics, you have to be focused in one direction 100 percent. And he is.”

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