When the Major League Baseball season starts March 31, Brett Harman won't be on a pitcher's mound. Instead, the 23-year-old Westminster resident will be preparing for a career as a physician assistant.
But Harman, who had a standout career at Westminster High and the University of Maryland, isn't ready to give up baseball completely.
Later this spring, Harman will leave Carroll County for St. Louis, where the right-hander will pitch for the River City Rascals, on the outskirts of St. Louis.
"I thought I was done with baseball, but I wanted to play for one last summer," said Harman, the son of Bryan and Beth Harman. "They called and wanted me to come out and be a starting pitcher."
Harman's first season of professional baseball will begin with a season opener on May 10 and continue through the first week of September for the Rascals, who finished fourth, with a 45-50 record, among seven teams in the independent Frontier League last year.
"There are instances where people make it (from the independent minor leagues), but I don't want to turn 29 and then have to go back to school again. I'm just going out this summer because I still enjoy the game," Harman said.
Harman's life is steeped in baseball. He and his younger brother, Cody, both played high school baseball for their father, a standout pitcher at Westminster High and Towson State University before starting a long career as a physical education teacher and head baseball coach at his alma mater.
In May 2007, Harman pitched the Owls to a Class 3A state baseball championship, throwing a four-hit complete game to beat Centennial in the title game at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
That fall, he headed for College Park.
After going through the inevitable bumps in the road his first two seasons, Harman had earned a spot in Maryland's starting rotation by his junior year.
Then he developed shoulder problems, and eventually had to undergo major surgery after his right elbow gave out.
"I was experiencing some shoulder issues," Harman said. "I tried to pitch through it, but my elbow was compensating for the weakness in my shoulder. I spent the following summer trying to rehab my shoulder, but I couldn't throw without any pain."
Harman went to see the Washington Nationals' orthopedic specialist, Dr. Wiemi Douoguih, who recommended Tommy John surgery for his elbow. He underwent surgery in November 2010, and missed the entire 2011 college campaign.
"That was a major decision," Harman said. "At that point, I still wanted to pursue a baseball career. Once I got the surgery, I couldn't do much for two to three months. But I had a great trainer named Oscar Trujillo, who worked with me every day."
Harman's extended recovery period after the surgery meant he didn't face a live batter until just three weeks before the Terrapins' season-opening trip to UCLA in February 2012.
"The surgery gave me time to think," Harman said. "I learned how to be more of a pitcher, rather than just reaching back and throwing the fastball."
In his final Maryland season, Harman compiled a 6-4 record with a 3.04 earned run average and a team-leading 73 strikeouts.
Harman's ability to bounce back from major surgery and his productivity on the mound for the Terps were key factors in his selection as the 2012 Amateur Player of the Year by the Maryland State Association of Baseball Coaches.
"It was surprising to me, and very rewarding, to be named Amateur Player of the Year," Harman said. "There were some great players that could have won it, like (Frederick native and 2012 Orioles draftee) Branden Kline."
Relief specialist after baseball
Harman drew interest from the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals organizations, but unlike Kline, wasn't selected in the June 2012 draft.
"After the draft, I was disappointed," said Harman, who ranks among the top pitchers in Terp history in career strikeouts, second; wins, fifth; and innings pitched, fifth. "I knew that I wasn't going to be taken in the high rounds, but I expected that after performing in the ACC that would be enough to warrant a later-round pick. I was offered to sign as a free agent (by the Royals), but I wasn't completely all in. The draft experience kind of drained me."
His college coach couldn't believe that Harman was overlooked.
"If I was a major-league organization, I'd want Brett Harman on the mound," said Eric Bakich, who coached Harman for three seasons at Maryland and now heads the baseball program at the University of Michigan. "He's got all the intangibles and the ability. Brett is a true four-pitch guy, with not only a fastball but also a devastating slider, a good curveball and an effective change-up. He can make the ball move in different directions, and I'd rather have a guy that throws 88 miles an hour with movement than throw 94, straight as a string. It's not all about velocity."
With the draft disappointment behind him, Harman decided to go back to school. Having majored in kinesiology at Maryland, he is taking several classes at Carroll Community College that he wasn't able to take during his undergraduate days due to the frequent travel and uneven schedule of the baseball season.
"I started off as an accounting major," said Harman, who graduated summa cum laude from Maryland with a 3.85 grade point average. "But I didn't enjoy any of my business classes, and I just couldn't see myself doing it.
"I really liked kinesiology, because it was more about the movements of the human body," he said "One of my research projects was on the biomechanics of the throwing motion, which enabled me to figure out how to reduce stress on the ulnar collateral ligament. That's what I had fixed."
This spring, Harman is preparing for his next baseball season. His six-day-a-week regimen includes one day of rehabilitative exercises, and five days of weightlifting and running.
"I'm thrilled that Brett is continuing to play," Bakich said. "I've never seen a pitcher battle with as much tenacity and aggressiveness as Brett did. He's a relentless competitor."
When Harman returns from St. Louis, he will work directly with patients and doctors at the Carroll Hospital Center.
He expects to receive his formal acceptance to a physician assistant program later this year and begin his formal training in May 2014, preferably at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, or at one of the Nova University schools in Florida.
After completing the program in 24 to 30 months, Harman will be fully certified and hopes to work in his chosen area of orthopedics.
"Once I had my surgery, I decided to go the physician's assistant route," Harman said. "It's a two-year track to become a P.A., as opposed to six or seven years to become a doctor."
He hopes to get a head start this summer by working with the River City Rascals' orthopedic specialist.
"My career is in medicine," Harman said. "The most exciting part is, hopefully, being able to work with athletes. I would like to get in with a sports team somewhere and help athletes get back on the field. I want to help people recover and give them a second chance."