Good ol' days
Ken Harvey, once an American League All-Star on July 13, 2004, in Houston, faced Randy Johnson in the top of the third inning with the bases loaded. The results of that inning:
¢ Alex Rodriguez (groundout)
¢ Jason Giambi (single)
¢ Derek Jeter (single)
¢ Alfonso Soriano (single)
¢ Ken Harvey (strikeout)
¢ Ichiro Suzuki (groundout)
Tonight, everyone will be watching baseball.
In living rooms across the country, televisions will snap to life, and beers will crack open, and the country will tune in to watch an American pastime play itself out on national television. They'll watch the greatest collection of baseball talent in America compete in one of the most storied ballparks ever built.
They'll be watching the 2008 Major League Baseball All-Star game, held at Yankee Stadium in New York, and they'll smile because it doesn't get much better than this.
Ken Harvey won't be watching.
In Kansas City, Kan., in a stadium next to a Dave & Busters and a Nebraska Furniture Mart, Harvey will pull on a Kansas City T-Bones jersey and begin preparing for the second game in a four-game series against the Winnipeg (Canada) Goldeyes.
At 30, Harvey is big and soft-spoken and a carries a bit more weight than he did during parts of four seasons with the Kansas City Royals, between 2001 and 2005.
"He's had a huge impact here," offers T-Bones manager Andy McCauley, whose T-Bones are 26-26 after a 5-1 loss Monday night. "Not only what he does on the field, but just around the clubhouse. He's still got aspirations, and I think he's got a real good shot at getting back to where he was."
Four years ago, in the third inning of the 2004 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Harvey stood in the box against Randy Johnson, a future Hall of Famer and one of the game's most dominating hurlers.
Tonight, he's scheduled to stand in against Brandon Kintzler, who is 4-3 with a 5.09 ERA this season for a team called the Goldeyes.
This is life in the Northern League, a six-team independent organization with teams based in places like Gary, Ind., Joliet, Ill., and Fargo, N.D. It's not glamourous, and, as Harvey is quickly learning, it's a long way from the chartered flights and cushy clubhouses of baseball's highest level.
The T-Bones travel strictly by bus, even when they play in Winnipeg - a 14-hour drive from Kansas City. Following a series in Gary earlier this week, the T-Bones didn't return to Kansas City until 4 a.m., and then had to be at the CommunityAmerica Ballpark less than 12 hours later to prepare for a game against the Goldeyes.
Players have figured out how to make due.
"Everybody has their system," said Tommy Thrall, director of media relations for the team. "Some guys just sleep on the (bus) floor."
In his first season with the team, Harvey is developing a system, too, although he says it hasn't been easy. A former fifth-round draft choice by the Royals in 1999, Harvey worked his way through the team's farm system and eventually cracked the Royals' major league roster, briefly, during the 2001 season. He returned for an extended stay in 2003, when he hit .266 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs. Royals fans saw this and got excited.
The next year, he began the season batting .305 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs and was the Royals' lone representative in the all-star game.
The following year, 2005, he played in only 12 games with the Royals. The next year, he was no longer with the team.
Harvey doesn't offer much as to what happened following his tenure with the Royals. He attended Spring Training with the Minnesota Twins last year, playing in five games with the team's AAA affiliate in Rochester. But two knee-scope surgeries set him back. According to McCauley, he also played in Mexico prior to joining the T-Bones in June.
"He's been bitter with baseball ever since what happened with the Royals," McCauley says. "And he's starting to get back (on track) now."
On a recent evening, standing near his team's dugout before the start of a game against Winnipeg, he is discussing baseball and Kansas City and his All-Star appearrance all those years ago and his goals for the season.
"So far, so good," he says of his time with the T-Bones. "I came out here to have fun."
As game-time draws nearer, the field begins to empty. Most of the T-Bones players have exited the field and made their way into the clubhouse behind the right-field wall, out of the relentless July sun. You get the feeling Harvey would like to join them.
Before he goes, he is asked one more question: whether he hopes to return to the major leagues.
"I'm not even thinking about that," he answers, quickly. "If that happens, it happens. But I just want to come out here and have fun, like I said."
And then, before you really know what happened, Ken Harvey is gone.