T-Rat KJ Harrison influenced by Hawaiian roots, baseball family

Posted: 5:23 PM, May 20, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-21 13:42:15-04

The Frozen Tundra has thawed out a bit, but when KJ Harrison arrived in Wisconsin to start playing with the Timber Rattlers, there was plenty snow on the ground - a much different scene than where he grew up, in Hawaii.

"KJ" is a nickname, but his birth name was Kainoa Harrison, and there’s a theme and tradition to the other names in his family.

"I have four younger brothers, and their names are Kaleo, Kalae, Kaikea, and Kahuku. And my name is Kainoa, and my dad's name is Kenny and my mom's name is Kaleka, so they just tried to keep all the K's going and obviously I'm from Hawaii so it's a Hawaiian name," Harrison said. "To be able to live at a place that's a vacation spot for other people, i mean it's really awesome."

Another tradition in the Harrison family is the game of baseball. Kenny Harrison played for the University of Hawaii, went into the minors with the Twins and the Pirates, and then took his professional career to Japan.

"By the time I was growing up he was playing softball so I was always out there in the field with him while he was playing softball though," KJ Harrison said, laughing. "I think the best part for me was my dad being a role model in my baseball career. Him playing baseball and he was a good player, and you know to be able to look up to him and being able to talk to him about the game, it's really cool to have that bond."

Harrison’s dad coached him for three years in high school, where he primarily played catcher. He played college baseball at powerhouse Oregon State, where he primarily played first base and DH’ed - and matured physically and mentally.

"I wasn’t ready for pro ball out of high school and I wanted to go to college and enjoy the college experience," Harrison said. "I’m forever thankful for all of the things that I did there."

Whether being drafted out of high school or college, the typical scene of draft day is getting the call surrounded by loved ones, and celebrating. That wasn’t quite the setting for Harrison.

"I actually was taking a final when my name got called, which was crazy," Harrison recalled. "As soon as my test was done, I rushed, opened my phone, got texts and videos from my parents, like, 'You just got picked, congratulations!' So it was an amazing feeling."

As for that final, Harrison said he doesn’t remember the grade he got, which means it might have not been the A+ he was hoping for — kind of like the start he was off to with the T-Rats this season, batting .173 through the first 31 games, in contrast to his solid rookie ball season in Helena, batting .308 with 10 homers, 57 hits and 33 RBI in 48 games.

"He got off to a rough start. We talked to all of them about dealing with adversity. It’s going to happen, but for KJ, it happened a little bit earlier and you could see him try to press," said Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson. "He seems to be in a much better place than he was just a couple weeks ago. And he’s a kid that can hit, there’s no doubt about it."

And that checks out — in the last 10 games, his batting average has ticked up to .207, bringing in three runs on three hits and a homer in the last five games.