'Huge,' Don Harris always said - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

'Huge,' Don Harris always said

Friends of fallen softball player ask town to rename fields

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Posted: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:24 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

On a recent Thursday morning in Oro Valley, senior softball players suited up for a game. Despite the sunshine, 80-degree weather and mountain views, something was amiss.

"Keep Don Harris in your mind when you play today," Ron Locher told his teammates before taking the field.

On Aug. 17, just before a game, Oro Valley resident and softball player Don Harris collapsed and died on the softball diamond at Joaquin Murrieta Park in Tucson.

To his friends, Harris was more than a teammate, he was the heart and soul of the team and the entire senior softball league. And his enthusiasm for the game was infectious.

"He used to yell, 'Huge,'" said Denny McCabe, Harris's brother-in-law and teammate. That call became something of a Harris trademark during his years of organizing softball leagues.

Now, a group of his friends have asked the Oro Valley Town Council to allow them to name a pair of fields used for senior softball at James D. Kriegh Park after Harris.

A native of Chicago, Harris earned a master's degree from the University of Chicago. He worked in Denver and Phoenix before retiring to Oro Valley about six years ago.

McCabe said he first met Harris at a bar they worked at in Chicago. Before long, Harris met McCabe's sister Carol-Ann.

"That's where the three of us got together as one," McCabe said.

Harris and Carol-Ann married in 1967.

According to his friends, the word "fanatic" probably best describes how Harris approached softball. Sometimes the urge to play couldn't wait until the Midwest winters had thawed.

"We used to get orange softballs and play in the snow if the snow hadn't melted yet," McCabe said.

On the diamond, Harris was more than just a player — he organized, scheduled, coached, kept statistics, wrote the rules and helped clean up.

Harris spent hours pouring over the rosters, scheduling tournaments and managing the logistics of where and when teams would play.

Oro Valley has just two fields sized for senior softball, with all-dirt infields and 65-foot bases, similar to youth league diamonds. The dearth of fields leaves leagues searching to find places to play across greater Tucson.

In Harris's absence, the league has struggled to keep it together.

"We have since divided up the stuff he was doing, and we have eight people doing what he was doing," said Don Cox, who plays in the same league, and has helped spearhead the effort to name the fields after Harris.

For all his work for the league, Harris's enthusiasm will probably be what his friends miss the most.

"He was a player, maybe not the best player on the team, but the most enthusiastic," McCabe said.

Everyone who came into contact with Harris, on and off the softball field, seemed drawn to his character. When the team started to frequent The Loop Taste of Chicago restaurant after games, Harris hit it off with restaurant owner Mark Rusin. Rusin, a fellow Chicagoan, said Harris's generous spirit was always on display, fixing Rusin's computer and taking photographs for a restaurant flier.

"I asked, 'What do I owe you?' He said, 'Two beers,'" Rusin said.

When Harris approached Rusin about sponsoring the team, now called The Oro Valley Loop, Rusin said Harris was anxious about asking for the $750 for jerseys and other fees.

"I'll only do it for $1,000 or nothing," Rusin joked. "He says, 'That's huge!'"

On the day of the funeral, Rusin decided to wear his team jersey to the service in honor of Harris. He wasn't prepared for what he saw once there.

"He's got The Loop shirt on in the casket, he's gonna be buried in it," Rusin said, wiping away the tears.

At the funeral, Harris's teammates started a chant of "huge" in honor of their fallen friend.

After the funeral, Rusin renamed the restaurant patio in honor of Don Harris.

The team still comes in after most games, often sitting under the plaque and photo of their friend who died doing the thing he loved.

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