Success Under Fire Makes Harrison Kain Star for Wichita Wingnuts
There are many you will find in the world of professional baseball who you just knew would be a star player one day. Their dad played pro ball, or they had a whole lot of family members that played through college. Maybe they had a rocket arm or had physical stature that just screamed “Baseball Player!” It is the common element you find among many that are playing in the minors or independent baseball today.
Then there are those who seem to defy the odds. Players who work harder than others and combine their talents with an insatiable drive to succeed to the point that they are playing above those that many feel are more talented. It is that kind of player that becomes the hero of many, and that is the story of Wichita Wingnuts center fielder Harrison Kain.
Harrison’s success is not just about drive, however. This is a young man who will take advantage of any opportunity he is given and run with it. It does not matter if he has even tried something before, he has enough confidence in himself to know that he will succeed even if it means that he has to show extreme proficiency at something on the fly. That is the epic that is Harrison Kain.
Succeeding Against the Odds
Harrison Kain was first introduced to baseball when his dad decided to take him to a batting cage. That experience left a lasting impression on him, as he grew to love the sport almost immediately. He soon realized that he not only liked it, but he was good at the sport as well.
“Something about hitting the ball was really fun and I was really good at it. I just loved baseball and it always came natural to me. When I was like six or seven I already knew I really loved the sport.”
While loving the sport, he always found himself at a decided disadvantage. For most the early part of his youth he was a lot smaller than those who were on his team, or who he even competed against. This mean that he was left off of all-star teams and never really blossomed in the sport until the middle of his teen years.
“It’s not like all these other guys where you hear that they were on All-Star teams when they were younger. I wasn’t one of those guys because I matured a little bit later. I wasn’t a freshman on varsity. I played freshman and then JV, and in my junior year I matured a little bit and that was when I realized that I was just as good, if not better than a lot of the guys I was playing against. I always knew that I had a better work ethic than all the other guys.”
It was the work ethic that always set Harrison apart from the others. If he was going to succeed he knew he had to work twice as hard as everyone else and that really helped him later on. He was already a better ball player than many he competed against because of his dedication. When he filled into his body in his junior year all he did was add more skill and ability, putting him head and shoulders above the rest.
He still was at a small (excuse the pun) disadvantage. Kain would grow to 5-10 which is just on the low side for a Major League infielder. That would discourage many from even contemplating dreams such as this, but not Harrison Kain.
“I always thought that at some point if I had the opportunity and someone believed in me and gave me a chance I would make it. There were plenty of guys who were my size in the big leagues.”
In 2007, Harrison graduated from Thousand Oaks High School. He played two seasons of varsity baseball, hitting .372 as a junior and .435 as a senior. As a senior he was named to the All-Ventura County, the All-Area, and the All-Marmonte League Second Teams and he was also awarded the Thousand Oaks Big Bat Award after driving in 26-runs and hitting 4-homeruns. His senior year, the team did so well that they finished 10th in the final USA Today High School Baseball Poll.
A Smolder Turns into a Blaze
Upon graduating high school, Harrison Kain attended Moorpark College for the first two years. In his sophomore season he hit .333 with 4-HR, 33-RBI and 13-stolen bases, and made the All-Western State Conference First Team and was the team MVP. That garnered him a lot of attention, including from the University of Central Arkansas, who offered him a full scholarship to come and play there. However, he chose to go to Pepperdine University instead. The scout, who had been advising Kain, recommended that he stay closer to home and helped to get him into Pepperdine. Since it was only about 30-minutes from his parent’s house and they offered him the same scholarship he was to receive at Central Arkansas, he opted to go there.
The move was intended to give him a better shot at getting into professional baseball, but it changed the direction of his baseball future in another way as well.
“I had actually played the infield my whole life. When I got to Pepperdine, I transferred from junior college, and they had two freshman up the middle already and I was a junior, but they only had two outfielders. They didn’t have a right fielder. So they throw me in the outfield and I had my own success out there.”
Kain had no experience in the outfield, but at one of the most prestigious baseball schools in the country he was about to prove he could take on the role and do it in the heat of battle. He started 26 games there and proved that he had the natural talent to do the job, leading the team with six outfield assists. He did not commit any errors either. In the 40 total games that he played in, Harrison hit .253 with 17-runs scored and 6-RBI.
He had shown in his junior season that he could be thrust into a role on the fly and find a way to deliver, so he remained in the outfield as a senior. He appeared in 52-games, 46 in the outfield, but saw his average slump slightly to .239 with 27-runs and 11-RBI. While the batting average was down slightly, his skill in the outfield was up. Harrison made just one error and led the nation in outfield assists with 13. Teams decided to challenge his arm and he was more than happy to accept that challenge.
“They kept me in the outfield and I led all of the NCAA in outfield assists because they would just keep sending guys thinking I couldn’t make the play. I’ve always had a good arm and no one really knew that.”
Haivng to Prove Himself Once Again
In 2011, Harrison Kain graduated from Pepperdine University He had proven that he could excel at any position on the diamond and that he could make adjustments that could help him succeed. However, he was not selected in the MLB amateur draft.
Undeterred, the newly graduated Kain opted to join Amarillo in the American Association. He appeared in 16-games his first season there, hitting .268 with 9-runs and 7-RBI. The next season he would return to the Texas team and hit .238 in 81-games with 3-HR, 44-runs driven in and 47-runs scored. He also stole 17-bases.
In 2013, the Laredo Lemurs acquired Kain, but they wanted him to spend some significant time playing second base for them. Back to the infield he went where he made just 6-errors, playing about half of his time in the infield. He also showed some incredible prowess at the plate, hitting .330 with 55-runs scored and 19-stolen bases.
In 2014, he remained in Laredo, playing third base and the outfield. Harrison played well defensively at both, but saw his average dip to .256. He still scored 47-runs and stole 18-bases.
In 2015, Harrison moved to Sioux Falls, but he would not remain there long. After 38-games with the Canaries, he was acquired by the Wichita Wingnuts and he would remain there the rest of the season. He had struggled offensively in Sioux Falls, hitting .231, but in Wichita Harrison became a key to the team’s offensive success. The outfielder hit .286 in 45-games with 24-runs scored and 12-stolen bases. He also continued to show great skill in the outfield, making just 2-errors, while throwing out four runners.
He had proven in 2015 what a great addition he was to the Wingnuts, but that was just a small taste of what was to come. In the 2016 American Association season, Harrison Kain has been nothing but brilliant. In 48-games this season he has hit .355 with 27-runs scored and 31-RBI. His batting average leads the league and he was named to the All-Star team.
A Philosophy Destined for Success
It has been an amazing season for Harrison Kain in 2016. At 27-years-old he is seemingly getting better with age, and it comes becomes of his dedication to his craft. It has also come because few work as hard at playing the game in as professional a manner as he, and that is the demand he has on himself.
“One thing that I do every single day more than anything else is to play the game the way it should be played, which is as hard as I can. I think my defense is a spot that I play really, really well. I would even say that I may be the best centerfielder in the league. I’m really confident in my abilities. I never give up on it. I’m going to compete in every at-bat, always trying to put the ball in play. I think I put the bat on the ball well and play defense exceptionally well. All that has come because I work hard and I expect a lot of myself. If I can do something better, I will work at until I see the results.”
The maturity has also helped him to understand that how he handles the game above the shoulders is as important as his physical tools. He has always been mentally tough when it came to playing the game of baseball, but his time in professional baseball has shown him that he has to control his emotions and to not let them interfere in his success.
“I’ve learned over the years that this game is so mental. It’s such a crazy game that you just have to stay on an even keel. You can’t get too high; you can’t get too low. You can only worry about what you can control. Don’t get me wrong, when I was a rookie I was mentally unstable. I would go home mad all the time, but as I matured I realized it made no sense to go out worrying about the umpires, worrying about what had just happened, there’s nothing you can do about it. The best thing you can do is to figure out what you can do to avoid that happening again, or if you’ve had success how you can continue to have success.”
To meet those ends, his focus has been to enjoy the game a lot more. This is a kid’s game, despite being a job, and he wants to have fun out there so he can enjoy the game and be a great teammate.
“I don’t want to giveaway at bats, to have fun, and to just make sure that I stay even keel. Everyone wants to be in a super good mood, but when you have a bad game you feel super crummy. It’s a team game so you need to stay even keeled for your team.”
The career path to the Wichita Wingnuts has been an interesting one for the outfielder. Along the way he has had to retool himself and learn to succeed in the heat of battle. He has had great success and has become one of the best players in the American Association. His All-Star selection is well deserved, as should be a shot in affiliate baseball. After six seasons in independent baseball many may think that his chances of reaching affiliate ball are really slim. It’s just another opportunity for Harrison Kain to defy the odds.
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA