The consistent man

Monday, May 24, 2010 at 11:45pm

It took a while for coach Tim Corbin to see Brian Harris as Vanderbilt’s starting shortstop. Now he looks to the fifth-year senior when a game reaches a critical point.

“The most valuable thing about that kid is that he’s the guy you want for the other team to hit the ball to with the bases loaded and two outs,” Corbin said. “He’s just that good. He’s made so many great plays in crucial moments that they never go unnoticed by me. Because there’s a certain amount of pressure that goes behind fielding a ball like that, and he’s just been so consistent in doing that.”

Harris has been a fixture in the middle of the Commodores’ infield for the last two seasons, and that’s not going to change at this week’s Southeastern Conference tournament.

His presence provides security to his pitchers, anxiety to opposing hitters and validation for years of hard work and an unfailing approach to the game.

“He makes almost every play,” pitcher Taylor Hill said. “You can’t ask for anything more, and when he does make an error, it’s a rare occurrence. It’s not like you’re going to be mad at him because he makes every other play and everybody makes errors. … It’s comforting that he knows what’s going on and is able to field everything.”

Harris came to the program in 2006 as part of the nation’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class, which included Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty. He was a four-year starter and an all-state selection at Montgomery Bell Academy but was not considered the same caliber of player as some of that year’s other newcomers. He redshirted as a freshman and was a utility infielder for two years after that.

Last spring, he became the starting shortstop and earned a spot on the SEC All-Defense team.

“[Defense] is something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in,” Harris said. “If I mess up, it frustrates me a lot.

“I knew I had to be patient and kind of wait my turn. To see all those other great players who played in front of me … they set a high standard, something I was trying to reach.”

He entered this weekend’s series against Arkansas second in the SEC in on-base percentage (.524), and his fielding percentage (.945) was down slightly from what it was a year ago.

This season — or any one season, for that matter — does not tell the story of Harris’ fielding. It only is fully revealed through countless practices and daily exposure to him and his approach to playing.

“If you had to critique him on a [one] week basis, you wouldn’t put him at shortstop,” Corbin said. “But you see him day after day after day, and then the months go by and you think, ‘He has to be our shortstop.’ No one else plays as consistently as that young man.

“He makes plays that you don’t think he’s going to make, and then he makes every routine play.”