Time doesn’t stand still for 20 of the 24 hours each day for Matt Harrison, but it can feel that way.
Harrison is a major leaguer, trapped both in injury hell and at extended spring training, while his team, the Texas Rangers, is limping through the 2015 schedule. He wants to be there, where he once won 18 games and was an All-Star before a disk in his back gave way twice in 2013 and again in 2014.
It doesn’t help that Surprise, the most remote of the Phoenix suburbs, doesn’t have much to offer in entertainment outside of golf, which Harrison’s back won’t allow him to play.
When he’s at the Surprise Recreation Campus bright and early six days a week, however, he’s a busy man. He threw live batting practice earlier this week and will do so again Saturday. He has started to participate in pitchers’ fielding practice.
Harrison could be only 10 days away from pitching in an actual game, albeit against overmatched teenagers and others who are one year out of college. The majors aren’t far away.
It’s the mental grind of the wait that is wearing down Harrison and fellow left-hander Martin Perez, on the road back from Tommy John surgery nearly a year ago. But as the end of their journeys approach, the clock seems to stop at the Surprise Recreation Campus.
“The closer I get to returning, the longer the days get,” Harrison said. “It feels like some never-ending days out here in Arizona. I feel good where I’m at. It’s just staying mentally patient is the hard part now.”
And, really, it hasn’t even gotten hot yet. The heat is coming, though, with temperatures steadily in the 90s and flirting with the 100s.
Harrison and Perez will avoid the hottest part of the day. Their workouts are done by noon, and noon is a long day. As would be expected of big leaguers, they’re among the first to arrive each day.
Also to be expected? They’re working hard to get back to another grind — the big league season.
“I like when I have to say whoa to a horse instead of giddy up,” said Keith Comstock, the Rangers’ pitching rehab coordinator. “With these guys, I’m constantly having to say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ And that’s good. That’s the kind of horse I want to ride, because when I have to put the whip to them, they’re going to be ready for it.”
That’s coming, with Perez facing the new challenge of working on pitch sequences with all of his pitches rather than just pumping fastballs. Harrison is curious to feel how his body reacts in a game, when the adrenaline will be amped up.
The field, though, is their refuge for only a limited time each day. He and Perez spend most of their days killing time.
Harrison has taken the drastic step of purchasing books and actually starting to read them to help pass the time. He has taken some of the young players at extended spring to dinner, but usually cooks his own meals in the hotel.
He tries to FaceTime with his young children every day.
“Walking from the couch to the bed and the bed to the couch gets old pretty quick,” Harrison said.
Perez spends more time around the fields and with the young Latin players, watching extended-spring games and telling the players not playing that day what to look for and how to be better players.
Later for dinner, after killing time playing FIFA 15 back in his hotel room, he tries to take a handful of the players out to dinner each night, providing a quality meal for players who don’t have much money in their pockets.
“I let them get whatever they want,” said Perez, whose wife will be joining him next week. “They ask me how’s living in Arlington, how you have to pitch, how to be a good leader, what you have to do. They’re 18 to 20. Every day I watch the games and try to make an example.”
Most important, each pitcher says he is healthy and has had no setbacks. Harrison could be back in late June, and Perez’s target date is July 5.
Perez started throwing breaking pitches two weeks ago, one of the last things to come after having an elbow ligament replaced. He will start throwing live batting practice in a few weeks.
Harrison doesn’t always feel 100 percent, which is to be expected with two rods supporting his lower back, but he is never in excruciating pain.
That helps both endure the long days in sleepy Surprise, which is only going to get sleepier as the thermometers rise. The good news is that both see the end of their journeys approaching.
“Both of these guys have big smiles on their faces because they know the light is getting better at the end of the tunnel here,” Comstock said. “Both of these guys have a deep desire to go help that club.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760