CLEARWATER, Fla. — Josh Harrison scrolled the Bible app on his phone before his junior year of college, passing the time before the start of another baseball season.
Then a 20-year-old infielder at his hometown University of Cincinnati, Harrison had spent the summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League. And his play there after two strong seasons at Cincinnati made it almost certain that Harrison would hear his name called the following June at the Major League Baseball draft.
So it was easy for Harrison to feel good about himself as he scrolled on his phone. But then something grabbed his attention.
“1 Peter 5:6,” Harrison said. “It talks about being humble. It says, ‘Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand. Therefore he might lift you up in due time.’ It was definitely something that I needed.”
Harrison leaned on that passage when his junior season began with a vicious slump, pushing him to keep going. He used it when he climbed through the minor leagues, and he had it stitched onto his glove when he debuted in 2011 for the Pirates.
Harrison played in two All-Star Games and added the Bible passage to his autograph, reminding himself of the importance of humility when he was on top. Now the passage is in Clearwater on the wristbands Harrison wears this spring as he tries to keep his career churning by securing one of the final spots on the Phillies roster.
“It’s just a constant reminder for me. When things are going good and even when things are going bad, remaining humble through it all,” Harrison said. “I say it’s far greater than baseball. It helps me in baseball, but also in life. Marriage, kids, siblings, family, friends. If you’re not humble, it will come back to get you. That’s with anything, thinking that you have it all.”
Harrison was one of seven veterans the Phillies signed this winter to minor-league deals to compete in camp for the last two spots on the team’s bench. Like Harrison, most of the other veterans have track records of success. Phil Gosselin was the team’s leading pinch hitter last season. Logan Forsythe started six of the seven World Series games in 2017 with the Dodgers. Neil Walker has played 11 major-league seasons. And like Harrison, the other veterans are trying to prove this spring that they still have something left.
Harrison was an All-Star in 2017 with Pittsburgh, but injuries limited him to 133 games over the last two seasons. He is healthy now and can play nearly every position, providing the versatility the Phillies would like to have on a five-man bench that already includes two outfielders and a backup catcher.
“Looking at the makeup of the roster, I know given healthy, I can help,” Harrison said. “I’m here healthy. It’s a veteran clubhouse. A new manager. Guys want to win. They are in a position to win, and I feel like I can definitely be a part of that any way I can."
The Tigers signed him before last season to be their starting second baseman, but Harrison tore a hamstring in May. The injury was expected to sideline him for six to eight weeks, but he still felt discomfort eight weeks later in August when he played a week’s worth of minor-league rehab games. The Tigers released him shortly after, and Harrison began to eye 2020.
“I couldn’t do myself an injustice. I’ve already played injured enough. So the timing for me was actually perfect,” Harrison said. “When I went home in August, I continued working out and doing a lot of physical therapy to correct everything I could. I was able to have a normal offseason. I was right back on track.
"It was a blessing in disguise. Because if that injury would’ve happened two months later, I’d still be trying to figure out how to correct myself in the middle of spring training as opposed to how it is now.”
Harrison was 26 when he made his first All-Star Game, six years after he found that Bible verse. He helped the Pirates reach the postseason three straight years and hit .290 with a .759 OPS between 2014 and 2017. The Pirates signed him in 2015 to a four-year contract, as Harrison was one of baseball’s young stars. But by the end of the deal, injuries had begun to seep in. Baseball humbled him.
“Humility is something that can always be used, especially doing what we do,” Harrison said. “We get put on a pedestal — granted, it’s a lot of hard work and things we’ve done — but I know the opportunity that I’ve been blessed with is far greater than everything I’ve done. It’s just a constant reminder for me. When things are going good and even when things are going bad, remaining humble through it all.”
He told his agent last August after the Tigers released him that he would play the rest of that season only for a team with playoff aspirations. Otherwise, he’d rather rest for the final two months of the season and allow his body to heal. That offer did not come, so Harrison stayed home in Ohio — not far from where he scrolled on his phone to pass time — and prepared for another season. He signed with the Phillies in November and came last month to Clearwater. Not only was he humble, but he was also healthy.