Calvin Harris of Western Dubuque is the 2020 Gazette Male Athlete of the Year

FARLEY — They take baseball seriously up in Dubuque County. Way seriously.

High school programs in the county always represent. Just about every small town has a semi-pro team.

There are the Rickardsville A’s, Cascade Reds, Key West Ramblers, Peosta Cubs, Placid Pirates, Worthington Cardinals, Epworth Orioles, Dyersville Whitehawks and Bernard Indians. Balltown has a team, as do Holy Cross, Zwingle, New Vienna, Holy Cross and Farley.

 

 

Calvin Harris played for that Farley Hawks club five years ago. He recently graduated from Western Dubuque High School, so you do the math there.

“They needed a catcher,” he said. “I guess I was the only one available.”

The kid was literally just a kid at the time, had recently completed his seventh-grade school year, was a mere 13-year-old playing against grown men. Some of those grown men were current and former college players.

“That’s when I knew I had something really special,” Western Dubuque baseball coach Casey Bryant said. “Because when he was in seventh and eighth grade, he was playing semi-pro ball against 24, 25, 26-year-old guys. Guys who were playing college ball. I remember watching him hit against A.J. Reuter from Coe, who was the Iowa Conference pitcher of the year his senior year, in a semi-pro game, with a wood bat, squared him up pretty good. And A.J. was a lefty. Calvin hits lefty.”

Yeah, that was something all right, just the beginning for someone who started the next season as an eighth-grader for Western Dubuque’s varsity. Five-year baseball letterwinners are hard to find, especially at the Class 3A-4A level, but that’s just how good Calvin Harris is: a multiple-time all-stater, Gatorade player of the year in Iowa this year, someone who will play college baseball in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference for Mississippi.

Someone who got serious inquiries from teams a couple of weeks ago in MLB’s truncated five-round amateur draft. Had COVID-19 not hit, surely he would have been a top-10 round pick and a probable pro.

Though it doesn’t pay anything, he is the 2020 Gazette Area Male Athlete of the Year.

“A really good catcher for high school. Definitely mature beyond his years for receiving and just the build he has behind the plate,” said Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Mitch Keller, a former Cedar Rapids Xavier prep who has thrown multiple bullpens over the months to Harris during this pandemic. “Like I told one scout before the draft, I would feel comfortable with him, not knowing how he is with game calling or anything, but I would feel comfortable with him catching and blocking and receiving in one of my Triple-A minor-league games. He is pretty solid back there.”

‘Trust me, he would not change a thing’

“We kind of sat there and watched the draft,” Harris said. “We got a couple of calls from teams that made offers for the fourth and fifth round. Just kind of didn’t meet the number that I had in mind to go (pro), so I just said no. I actually went out to the Farley tournament at the end of the fourth round, because I knew at that point nothing was going to happen.”

He insists he’s OK with going the college route. He’ll have to stay at Ole Miss for three years before being eligible to be drafted again.

But if he progresses, oh, man. Left-handed hitting catchers with dynamic defensive skills are in high demand.

“You can’t really sulk on it because that was out of my hands, out of my control,” Harris said. “Certainly it puts a chip on my shoulder going forward, to prove something. That’s kind of how I look at it. Bet on myself, go to school, know that I’ll work hard and things will work out.”

 

 

“Playing football in the fall like he did didn’t hurt him like this spring when coronavirus did,” said Calvin’s father, Scott, who owns the very well-known Harris Golf Cars company that has NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre as one of its famous clients. Calvin has gotten the opportunity to meet Favre.

“No games, and scouts couldn’t come to watch him work out,” Scott Harris said. “He didn’t want to specialize in one sport and wanted to play all three, and, quite honestly, only attended a couple Perfect Game events in the last two years due to football, basketball and summer baseball in Iowa, and that hurt him in the draft. But trust me, he would not change a thing. He loved his teammates in high school. He did it on his terms, which as a dad made me very proud of him.”

As Scott Harris mentioned, this Athlete of the Year award wasn’t just won on baseball. Harris quarterbacked Western Dubuque to a Class 3A state championship last fall, playing almost the entire semifinal win over Council Bluffs Lewis Central and the entire championship game against Solon with a bad high-ankle sprain that required surgery.

He was The Gazette’s 2019 Football Player of the Year after accounting for 41 rushing and throwing touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Despite having that surgery, Harris rehabbed and recovered enough to play one more season on WD’s basketball team. He averaged more than 13 points a game as a freshman, is a four-year letterwinner in that sport.

Harris wasn’t able to play until the final five games of the Bobcats’ season but made a difference when he was in there. Again, with baseball and the MLB Draft coming up, the easy thing would have been for him to not even pick up a basketball.

But that’s not this kid.

“While Calvin’s accomplishments are amazing, his true character is what I will always remember,” said Western Dubuque Activities Director Tyler Lown. “Calvin’s work ethic and integrity truly set him apart from others. Calvin sets high goals for himself and relentlessly works to achieve his goals. In the process, he sets extremely high standards for himself. He does the right thing and expects his teammates to do the same. It has been an honor to have Calvin represent Western Dubuque.”

‘He loves his school, and he loves his teammates’

“What’s neat about Calvin is there is no one as an athlete who has given up more for their school and community than Calvin Harris,” Bryant said. “He didn’t have to play football this year, his (baseball) future is going to bright. But he loves his school, and he loves his teammates, so he committed to a football season that had considerable risk at his position. It’s the same thing with baseball. If I told him he needed to take the ball and pitch for me, he’d pitch for me.”

He’ll clean locker rooms for you, too. He actually did that after every Western Dubuque football game this past season. It was him and Coach Justin Penner as the last two guys out of the locker room after a game.

When arguably your best player does stuff like that ...

“How many kids with that ability level will stay on a Friday night after every teammate has left the room and sweep the locker room? He did that every Friday night,” Penner said. “He’s a servant leader. He cares about other people, and I think that’s pretty special.”

 

 

There are a lot of things pretty special about Calvin Harris. It goes way beyond just his athletic abilities.

“Calvin has tremendous leadership skills that have impacted students and athletes in a positive way at Western Dubuque,” Lown said. “His ability to build relationships with his peers allows him to motivate others to achieve at a high level. Calvin is a leader that makes everyone around him better. He leads by example by making decisions based on what is best for the whole group. I think this shows maturity that very few high school students possess.”

“What I really think about with him are all the intangibles,” Bryant said. “His character, his leadership, the integrity and the work ethic he has.”

One more summer as a Bobcat

Harris was blowing 94-mile-per-hour fastballs past an opponent in Western Dubuque’s opening game of the season last week. The second inning saw a decrease in his velocity to the middle-80s, and he was removed because obviously something was wrong.

Harris said he has been diagonosed with “Golfer’s Elbow,” a strain in his forearm and in one of his elbow ligaments. It’s nothing serious, and he’ll likely be hitting as WD’s designated hitter this week.

He should be back behind the plate before you know it.

“I’m very excited and happy that I get to have one more go-around,” he said. “We have a really good group of guys this year, good chemistry, a lot of good athletes, so hopefully we can have some success moving forward.

“I guess from an early age, I really fell in love with the game of baseball. Just being around it all the time, especially the local semi-pro games. I was always around them, my dad played for probably 40 years. It’s just the sounds and the smells of the game. I also really enjoyed football and basketball as well, but it’s just different with baseball. That’s just where I always wanted to be.”

Calvin Harris, at a glance

Full name: Calvin John Harris

School: Western Dubuque

Hometown: Peosta

Birthdate: November 15, 2002

Family: Parents, Scott and Juli; sisters Shannon and Maddie, brother, Brett.

High-school accomplishments: Four-year letterwinner in basketball. Averaged just over 13 points per game as a freshman and 16.9 points as a junior. Led the Western Dubuque football team to deep runs in the state playoffs as a junior and senior. WD won the Class 3A state championship this past fall, with Harris accounting for 41 combined rushing and passing touchdowns, with just two interceptions. Five-year varsity starter in baseball. Was Bobcats starting third baseman as eighth-grader, then a starting catcher and sometimes pitcher last four years. Hit .408 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs as a junior, .413 with eight homers and 52 RBIs as a sophomore, .390 with a homer and 61 RBIs as a freshman and .276 with 23 RBIs as an eighth-grader. Has struck out just 15 times in 411 career at-bats.

Future plans: Will play baseball and study business at the University of Missississippi.

Final voting

First-place votes in parentheses

1. Calvin Harris, Western Dubuque (10) 54

2. Cael Happel, Lisvon 29

3. Will Esmoil, West Liberty 26

4. Cam Miller, Solon 20

5. Logan Schmitt, Independence (1) 9

Others receiving votes (alphabetic order): Forrest Frazier, Iowa City High; Kyle Koppes, Springville; Austin Miller, North Linn; Nick Reid, Central City; Kaden Wetjen, Williamsburg

Others nominated (alphabetic order): Alex Aitchison, Cascade; Frank Bierman, Tipton; Kobe Borntrager, Hillcrest Academy; Nolan Brand, Mount Vernon; Tyler Dupont, Cedar Rapids Xavier; Noah Erickson, Mount Vernon; Carter Green, Cascade; Jacob Green, Cedar Rapids Kennedy; Will Hoeft, Iowa City West; Max Locher, Cedar Rapids Washington; Britan Martens, Midland; Nick O’Connor, Clear Creek Amana; Jay Oostendorp, Cedar Rapids Kennedy; Jack Pendergast, Cedar Rapids Prairie; Jack Renning, Cedar Rapids Xavier; Isaac Steffens, Postville; Ashton Stoner DeGrott, Cedar Rapids Prairie; Jacob Thompson, Cedar Rapids Jefferson; Tyler Thurston, North Cedar; Kole Tupa, Center Point-Urbana, Rowan Udell; Iowa City Regina; Connor Whalen, Marion; Kaleb Williams, Iowa City Liberty