Texas Rangers

Ex-Ranger Harrison trades baseball for a different farm system ... and reality TV?

Matt Harrison had to give up baseball because of a back injury that reminds him each morning why he can no longer play.
Matt Harrison had to give up baseball because of a back injury that reminds him each morning why he can no longer play. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Things haven’t slowed down too much for Matt Harrison, though he isn’t flying across the country anymore playing baseball for the Texas Rangers.

His playing days, shortened by injury, have been replaced by prepping his North Carolina ranch for cows and goats to be raised and sold, for chicken’s organic eggs to be sold and for horses to patrol the grounds in relative lives of leisure.

If a shed needs to be built, Harrison builds it. If a dock for a 2-acre lake needs to be built, he builds that, too.

Some wiring is acting up? No need to call an electrician.

The yard needs to be landscaped for an upcoming reality-TV spot? Harrison’s got a guy.


Retirement, albeit a forced retirement, isn’t a walk in the park for Harrison.

“We’re staying busy, man,” Harrison said. “We’re farming now. We just got another horse yesterday. We’ve got the goats. We’re running wild with animals around here. We’re going to sell cows, too.

“I’m out there all the time. I built everything except our house, our garage and our barn. I do a little bit of plumbing, a little bit of electric work, whatever needs to be done.”

Harrison, his wife and two kids live in Creedmoor, N.C., about 25 miles outside of Raleigh, and just moved into their new home on the farm acreage. Along with the home, they had a 55,000-gallon swimming pool installed.

That’s where reality TV comes in, though Harrison asked not to provide the details (check local listings) in large part because “I felt like an idiot.”

His bad back holds up pretty well, except when he does a lot of twisting. Hence, no more baseball.

Thanks to the advances in sports medicine, players no longer are forced to retire because of injury as often as they once were.

Elbow, shoulders and knees can all be rebuilt. Broken arms and sprained ankles and hamstring pulls all heal.

Players have even returned from cancer and, in the case of Rangers reliever Jake Diekman, three major operations to rid his body of ulcerative colitis.

But, then, there’s the spine. There’s no refilling a leaky disk in the back or neck, only temporary fixes, and the twists and turns of throwing pitches and swinging at them only pile onto the damage.

Twice in the past five years two Rangers players have bowed to their spinal injuries, most notably with slugger Prince Fielder. Harrison’s demise shouldn’t be a footnote.

He was an All-Star in 2012 and was signed to a five-year, $55 million contract that off-season. But he started to feel the signs of a herniated disk during spring training, and it started to show on the mound in the first month of the 2013 season.

Two surgeries for a herniated disk followed.

Harrison came back in 2014, only to have the same symptoms. A spinal fusion, an operation no MLB player has successfully endured, followed.

But Harrison gave it one last try and in 2015 made only three starts for the Rangers before the back started barking again. Knowing their lefty was likely done, the Rangers included him in the trade for Cole Hamels so that the Philadelphia Phillies could cash in on the insurance money protecting Harrison’s contract.

It was an abrupt end to his Rangers career and only a detour to the inevitable. He was never going to pitch again, not for the Rangers or Phillies or anyone.

He’d rather still be playing baseball, which he said he especially misses when he watches it.

“But then I get up in the morning and have to stretch and all that mess to get out of bed, and I realize I don’t have it anymore,” Harrison said.

He still follows the Rangers and stays in touch with some of the guys he came across. Of the current Rangers, Harrison played with only a handful of them.

“I pull it up every other day on the website,” he said. “They’re struggling. It looks like they’re halfway into a rebuild mode.”

Out with the old and in with the new. Players come and they go, but not always by their choosing.

Harrison, though, is doing just fine.

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