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Gonzaga University Athletics

Brett Harris has become the heart, soul behind Gonzaga baseball’s stellar season

Gonzaga senior third baseman Brett Harris poses for a photo on Wednesday at the Patterson Baseball Complex in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

On average, a healthy adult human heart beats 60-100 times a minute. Each of those beats should be regular with no electrical abnormalities.

In August 2018, before beginning his Gonzaga career, Brett Harris’ heart was having five irregular beats every six seconds .

While working out, his heart rate was elevated to 250 beats a minute, about 50 more than his maximum heart rate should be.

It was a serious, yet controllable situation – if the correct steps were taken.

“I am a man of faith, and I believe that everything happens for a reason,” Harris said.

Harris had to wear heart monitors for a few months, going to the cardiologist every week for electrocardiograms, MRIs of his heart and other tests to track down the issue. The doctors had a general idea of what the issue might be, but it took a deeper look to track down the problem.

“I tried to make some light out of the dark,” Harris said. “I had some fun with it just going through it all. I told everyone that I had a broken heart, just making jokes.”

After almost two hours of an exploratory procedure, the doctor performed a cardiac ablation. An ablation uses cold or hot energy to create tiny scars in a heart to block abnormal electrical signals.

The doctor declared Harris to be cured after the procedure, a word not used lightly in the medical field.

It was a moment of pure jubilation for Harris who – now a couple years removed from being cured as a senior third baseman for the Zags – will lead the 14th-ranked Bulldogs into their final homestand of the season Thursday against San Diego.

GU is ranked No. 14 by, No. 18 by USA Today and No. 20 by Baseball America.

The D1Baseball ranking is the program’s highest since 1980 when Collegiate Baseball handed the Zags a No. 9 ranking.

With injuries, COVID-19 shutouts and normal seasonal challenges, the Zags have continued to put an impressive product on the field.

“I think just the amount of adversity that our team has gone through just really sets us up in a really good spot to make a good run here in the postseason,” Harris said. “And it has just been super, super fun. I mean, we have put in so much work. It just really shows how deep we are, how close we’ve come together as a team.”

The rankings are memorable, and they are definitely special achievements, but the ballclub has their eyes set on bigger goals.

Associate head coach Danny Evans has been a part of the baseball revitalization project under head coach Mark Machtolf, joining the team 18 years ago with Machtolf.

“When you’re trying to do big things on a national scale, you have to have a lot of different pieces and a lot of different roles,” Evans said. “And then they all serve and they’re very important in their own different ways.”

Harris is one of those different pieces and he has been instrumental in the growth the program has seen in 2021. His combination of consistent, meaningful leadership and bucketloads of energy have helped position GU to take the next step in its team-building process.

That energy was shown when he was the first one to meet ace Alek Jacob after his no-hitter a month ago even though he was no closer to the mound than every other infielder.

His leadership includes putting the team first and while that mantra is definitely overused, Evans expanded on that notion. He said it is important for the player to put himself on the back burner, even if you go hitless on the night with a couple strikeouts and maybe an error tossed in for good measure.

Letting your teammates see you bounce back is key.

“For him, it is to really display a very consistent approach,” Evans said. “And not riding the roller coaster of emotions. And then our team buys into that and follows that lead.”

Harris has at least one hit in 35 or 47 games this season, supporting his .356 average – good for third in the conference.

Harris hit .305 in 2019 with the Zags and .283 in a shortened 2020 season. No player could have prepped himself for a season like 2020, but Harris made every stride he could before the current season.

“We said, ‘Hey, we can either let this control us or we go out and use this time to grow emotionally, mentally, physically, every way we can,’ ” Evans said. “If if we can stack up enough of those players doing that, with Harris leading the way and leading a lot of these conversations – in times where we couldn’t be together over this summer – (then guys could) really make jumps in every aspect they can.”

Harris himself built on an already strong frame and intelligent baseball mind as well.

“His growth physically, mentally, emotionally, just completely catapulted him into the role he is in today and the player he is this year,” Evans said.

Good coaches can put players in the right position to succeed – and in this case, prep them for a once-in-a-lifetime offseason – but it ultimately is the players who win the titles and earn the glory.

“I’ve always read and thought that good teams are led by the coaches, but great record-breaking teams are led by the players.”

Harris came back to the Bulldogs to help secure GU’s record-breaking status. He had multiple free-agent offers which he turned down. He was one of a few Bulldogs to be offered a chance at pro ball, albeit for a lower signing bonus than normal.

But he wanted to come back to finish his bachelor’s degree and to get a ring with GU’s name on it.

“It has been our goal since we’ve gotten here (to get a ring), Harris said. “And I think we had a really good chance at it last year, and it kind of just got stripped away from us. So it was important to me and I think a lot of the other guys that were offered the same thing as me had the same feeling.”

Returning turned out to be a good choice for the Arlington Heights, Illinois, native. The altered 2021 season has been his best-ever year, and he also is one of 10 senior CLASS award finalists in the country for baseball.

He has upped his home runs, slugging, walks, on-base percentage and fielding percentage.

As for his CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) finalist status, the award honors athletes for achievements in the community, classroom, character and competition.

His skills in baseball are documented, but the other three aspects of the award are all tied together.

Academics has always been important to Harris as he knew better grades would open up more opportunities.

His drive in the classroom is going to earn him a degree in special education. It was a relationship with one of his teammates’ brothers back home that helped him realize his passion for helping people who have a disability.

“He would come to every single game that we played and he was nonverbal,” Harris said. “But after every game, I’d come up to him just spend about 10 minutes hanging out with him and his parents and talking to him. And his smile just like lit up the entire room. They always told me how I made his day, but I really think he was the one that was making my day.”

Those interactions including being a teacher’s aide in special needs classrooms and cemented his passion for special education.

“My mom and I talked about it and I really assured her that’s what I wanted to do,” Harris said. “And it is what I was born to do.”