Harkey, now 38, spent eight seasons in the major leagues, most notably with the Cubs but also with the Rockies, Angels, A’s and Dodgers. His last season on the big league circuit was in 1997. A right-hander, Harkey was originally drafted by the Padres in 1984, but opted for college at Cal-State Fullerton instead.
Although his playing days are over, Harkey still enjoys the art of pitching with San Diego's Double-A affiliate in south Alabama. It’s his first year there, but not his first as a coach in the Padres' organization.
In 2002 and ’04, Harkey was the pitching coach of the Class High-A Lake Elsinore Storm of the California League. In 2001 and ’03, he coached the Fort Wayne Wizards (also Class-A) of the Midwest League.
Over a decade after last calling Wrigley Field home, Harkey looks back and still refers to the friendly confines as the most memorable place of all his stops on the major league tour.
“Without a doubt,” Harkey said, “the best experience I had was with the Cubs, especially as far as the fans are concerned. They were probably the most knowledgeable people I was ever able to play in front of.”
After being drafted with the fourth overall pick in '87, Harkey wasn’t in the Cubs’ farm system long. He made his major league debut the following year, going 0-3 with a 2.60 ERA in five starts. He was a career 36-36 pitcher with a 4.49 ERA and spent most of his tenure as a starter, beginning all but 27 of 131 games.
Harkey's finest season came in 1990, when he went 12-6 with a 3.26 ERA and won Sporting News Rookie of the Year honors. He insists the one batter who always had his number was Cincinnati’s Paul O’Neill.
Gone is O'Neill, and gone are the likes of Jim Lefebvre and Larry Himes, the manager and general manager of the Cubs during Harkey's final season in Chicago. While the faces and people have changed through the years, Harkey believes the game remains the same as it did when he was still pitching.
|Harkey pitches with the A's (Getty Images)|
“I don’t think it has changed as much as it has started to evolve,” he said. “Guys are bigger, stronger and faster now. The strike zone has also changed. When you think of baseball, you think of a game of adjustments. I think the game has had to adjust to the type of hitters and pitchers we have today.”
Harkey still keeps tabs with several members of the Cubs’ former front office as well, he says.
“I had a lot of friends back then that I still keep in contact with now,” he said. “I always thought they treated me fair. They gave me an opportunity to do something that a lot of people only wish they could have done, so I have no ill will toward them.”
As the BayBears’ pitching coach, Harkey keeps a watchful eye on opposing Southern League pitching (and hitting). He has paid special attention to the Northern Division and many key Cubs prospects this season at West Tenn.
The Jaxx staff has led the league in pitching for most of the year. Their current 3.25 team ERA ranks first in the league, and Harkey's Mobile staff places fourth with an even 4.00 mark.
“I think (Ricky) Nolasco has shown that he’s going to be a good pitcher,” Harkey boasted. “He’s going to get a great opportunity to pitch in Wrigley Field like I did. He has three or four good pitches that he throws for strikes, and he’s a competitor.”
As for his own pitchers, Harkey helped guide four Padres prospects to the Southern League All-Star Game this season. They were: Mike Thompson, Dale Thayer, Craig Breslow, and Natanael Mateo.
“Thompson has a great opportunity as long as he's able to continue to grow as a pitcher,” Harkey said of the recently promoted pitcher.
“Thayer and Breslow are also guys on the edge of sticking around in the majors.
"You know, Double-A is a very competitive level. And it’s kind of like a stepping stone. If you can pitch at this level, you can pitch at the big leagues.”
Breslow proved that to be true. He was promoted to San Diego on last Friday and threw an inning and a third of scoreless ball before being sent back down to Mobile.