BRADENTON, Fla. — The 2014 season was a breakout year for Josh Harrison. He hit .315 and made the All-Star team while playing a career-high 143 games.
In the off-season, he built on his success by teaming up with Blessings in a Backpack to bring attention to family hunger. He can regularly be seen in television commercials boosting the cause.
“You don’t have to be an athlete to give back to your community,” Harrison said. “You can work a nine-to-five job and do that, but we know that, as athletes, we do have a platform that we can use.
“I don’t do it for personal recognition — none of the guys in this clubhouse do — but if we can help make people aware, it’s a good thing.”
Blessings in a Backpack provides nutritious food for elementary students for the weekends when schools can’t provide lunches. Starting in 2005 at just two elementary schools, the program, based in Kentucky, now feeds 72,000 students in 700 schools in 44 states and the District of Columbia.
Harrison was looking for an opportunity to do something, but it was Blessings in a Backpack that approached him and got him involved in their cause.
“It was word of mouth,” said Harrison, a native of Cincinnati, not far from the program’s hub in Louisville. “I was approached at a dinner and it sort of went from there. The dinner last year was the first of it, and we’ll talk more once I get back to Pittsburgh. Anything I can do to bring awareness to the problem, I’ll help.
“We all take things for granted that everyone doesn’t have.”
Once Harrison gets back to Pittsburgh, though, he’ll have a full-time job on Opening Day for the first time in his big-league career. He is penciled in as the Pirates’ starting third baseman, a stark contrast from last year, when he played at least eight games at five different positions.
He started the full-time transition to third base last season when the Pirates started the transition of Pedro Alvarez to first base, a switch that continues this training camp.
Harrison eventually played 72 games at third base last season, but he also played right and left field, second base and shortstop. He had played each of those positions before as well as pitched for 1/3 innings in 2013.
This spring, Harrison hasn’t been called upon to be quite so versatile. As with many starters, his early action was limited, then a slight ankle problem slowed it further. He had been limited to just a hit in three at bats through Tuesday’s action.
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