Ryan Harvey steps up to the plate and promptly sends an incoming pitch well over the fence for yet another home run.
That exact scene is like clockwork whenever TDB steps onto a softball field, and it played out again Saturday in a victory over Nightmare in the 51st annual Smoky Mountain Classic at Sandy Springs Park.
“I’m kind of coming around to finally realizing that this is what I was made to do,” Harvey told The Daily Times. “I come from the Viking ancestry of swinging clubs, hammers, axes and things of that nature, so I was born to hit balls far.
“I’m going to stick with it as long as my body holds up.”
Harvey and his TDB teammates will be in action today during the final games of the tournament. TDB advanced to the finals of the winner's bracket late Saturday night against Resmondo.
Action begins at 8 a.m. with the first of two loser's bracket games at Sandy Springs Park. The championship round is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
Harvey’s prolific power is one of the main reasons he was selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2003 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs, the starting point for what has been a winding journey to become TDB’s top slugger.
He played eight seasons in the minor leagues and three on the independent circuit, logging 173 bombs over those 11 years, but a random invite to a softball league night from his brother toward the tail end of his career introduced him to a whole new world.
Harvey continued to play baseball, but during the offseason, his time spent on the diamond was used playing softball.
In 2013, Harvey decided to give up the sport he had played all his life for the one he had fallen in love with in recent years.
“I kind of developed a disdain for baseball because towards the end of my career I kind of felt unappreciated,” Harvey said. “I was hurting all the time and I didn’t really love it anymore. It was kind of one of those easy things to walk away from when people are wanting you more for something else.
“I would wake up in the middle of the season and asking myself, ‘Why am I still here? What am I doing wasting time?’”
Both sports have the same premise but require different techniques to be a successful hitter considering pitches are lobbed toward the plate in softball.
Harvey has his new swing down pat, evidenced by the 111 home runs he has hit in 58 games this year — accounting for 50% of the times he’s reached safely — but he admits that it took around three years to break his baseball habits and cement the softball ones.
“It took a while to get used to that slower speed because I was so used to seeing fastballs all the time, but I slowly caught on,” Harvey said. “… Every day is a learning process. Right when you think you’ve figured it out, it humbles you again. I developed the softball swing and kept playing and playing and slowly you learn the strike zone and how to hit during certain situations.”
Around the same time Harvey refined his skills, he became an internet sensation while participating in a home run derby inside the Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field after hitting a blast that hit the American flag that hangs from the roof of the dome.
The home run easily traveled more than 500 feet, a figure that has only been surpassed three times since the inception of Statcast in 2015. Then-Miami Marlins’ first baseman Giancarlo Stanton did it in 2016, Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story did it in 2018 and Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara did it this season.
“At the time, you don’t even realize it because those events are time-based, so basically it’s rapid fire,” Harvey said. “I only really realized it with the ‘Ohs’ and ‘Ahs’ of the crowd, and later on I saw the video of it.”
Harvey, the 2017 Smoky Mountain Classic MVP, is hoping he can continue doing what he was born to do over the final day of the tournament — his favorite event on the circuit because of the fan support and the atmosphere it provides.
If he does, it may be enough to lead TDB to its second title in three years.
“Winning is everything,” Harvey said. “Nobody likes to lose anything. I don’t even like to lose league night, so to come out here with these teams and this caliber of players and win a prestigious tournament like this, it would mean the world to us.”