Notes: Harris realizes dream
Outfielder joins team that he followed religiously growing up
ATLANTA -- When Willie Harris received word late Sunday night that he was returning to the Majors, his lifelong dream had become a reality. The same Braves organization that he'd religiously followed throughout his childhood was bringing him back to The Show.
"I've been watching this organization for a long time," said Harris, a native of Cairo, Ga. "When I got an opportunity in the offseason to sign here, it was a no-brainer for me. I didn't care if they sent me to Triple-A or Double-A. It was just the point of being in the Braves organization. ... I knew I could get [to the Majors] this year or next year."
Harris' return to the big leagues was made possible on Sunday, when the Braves traded Ryan Langerhans to the A's. If Harris continues to produce like he has at Triple-A Richmond, for whom he was hitting .362 (21-for-58), he could find himself with a lasting spot in Atlanta.
"The guy can play," said Braves manager Bobby Cox of Harris, who started Monday night's game against the Phillies in left field. "He's really been tearing it up."
After signing a Minor League contract with the Braves during the offseason, Harris wasn't thought to have much of a chance to make it to the Majors. In 60 games with Triple-A Pawtucket last year, he hit just .220. In 45 at-bats with the Red Sox, he hit just .156.
Harris believes some of his struggles were a result of his attempt to become the power hitter that the Red Sox wanted him to be. So this past offseason, he worked hard on regaining the swing that had helped him bat .262 while playing a career-high 129 games with the White Sox in 2004.
In 2005, he played just 56 games with the White Sox and hit .256.
"I think the main thing is confidence and just having my swagger back and just playing the game like I know how to play it," Harris said. "I lost that somewhere in  and I have that back now."
During Spring Training, Harris successfully adapted to a no-stride plate approach presented by Braves' Minor League hitting instructor Jack Maloof. In addition, he showed that he was definitely fast and athletic enough to handle playing left field on a regular basis.
"It's up to me from here," Harris said. "Hopefully the good Lord can stay with me and continue to bless me and everything will be fine."
Hampton holding up: Mike Hampton, who underwent season-ending elbow surgery earlier this month, was back at Turner Field on Monday. He still plans to throw in a Winter League this year and is very confident that he will indeed be healthy enough to pitch during the 2008 season.
Hampton appeared in just 12 games before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2005. After missing all of the 2006 season while rehabbing, it appeared that he was on course to pitch this season. But his optimism died on April 1, while throwing a simulated inning in Philadelphia.
The discomfort that he felt was similar to the pain that was produced when he was throwing in October in an Instructional League game. Throughout the winter, he and the Braves had thought the pain was just the breaking of scar tissue.
But Hampton now believes he could have torn his elbow tendon at that time. He expects to resume throwing after the All-Star break.
Hudson honors Hancock: During the 1997 season, Tim Hudson and Josh Hancock helped Auburn advance to the College World Series. They would renew acquaintances during the baseball season and occasionally see each other at Auburn football games.
When Hudson learned that Hancock died in a car accident in St. Louis early Sunday morning, he was obviously distraught. While pitching against the Phillies on Monday night, he honored the former Cardinals hurler by wearing "JH" on the left shoulder portion of his jersey.
Coming up: The Braves will continue their three-game series against the Phillies on Tuesday night at Turner Field. They'll send Mark Redman (0-3, 10.13 ERA) to the mound to face Cole Hamels (2-1, 3.24 ERA). First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 ET.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.