2021-2022 Vancouver Canadians utility player Harry Ray flips the bat in the latest chapter of C’s Chat.
Born in Rockwell, Maryland, Ray grew up in the Orlando area where he attended Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs, Florida. Among the major leaguers who came from Lake Brantley include Jason Varitek, Rickie Weeks, Jemile Weeks, Felipe López and Jonny Venters. Ray received a Rawlings-Perfect Game All-America honorable mention during his graduation year in 2016 and was an All-Region 1st Team selection. The year before, he landed a spot on the Perfect Game Underclass First Team squad.
Prep Baseball Report described Ray as “a shortstop with an athletic body that continues to gain strength. Smooth fielding actions with an above average ML arm. Good carry on throws. Average type range with good infield instincts. Soft quick hands. Will need to continue to improve on angles to balls at the next level. Loose quick bat with doubles power. Stays inside ball well and can drive ball in both gaps.”
That led to Ray being recruited by Vanderbilt University as he joined the Commodores for his freshman season of 2017. He helped the Vandy Boys reach the NCAA Tournament in his three full seasons on campus and was a part of three Regional championship squads. Ray made his mark in 2018 where he batted .385 in the Super Regional which included three triples against Mississippi State.
The breakout season came in 2019 when Ray hit .276 with a .358 on-base percentage and stole 21 bases. He set a Southeastern Conference (SEC) Tournament championship game record with three doubles against Ole Miss. However, the biggest moment for Ray came with the glove. A Google search of his name produces many results of what’s known as “The Catch” against the Louisville Cardinals in Omaha to help the Commodores reach the College World Series final. Advisory – please note the preceding link from Jomboy Media contains coarse language (NSFW). After that catch—which was shown on ESPN as one of the Plays of the Day—Ray contributed three hits, two runs and two RBI to help the Commodores beat Michigan for the national title.
Ray returned to Nashville for his senior season which was cut short by COVID. A pre-season All-SEC second-team selection, he had a conference-best nine stolen bases and reached base safely in 17 of 18 games. Ray also made just one error in 48 chances as he spent time at second base, third base and all three outfield spots during his time with the Commodores.
Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin had nothing but positive things to say about his key utility man on the Commodores official website.
“Harry is the consummate team guy … very connected to his teammates. Versatile, adaptable, relational, contentious and tough. Guys like this … you really miss when they are gone. He has served an important role for the last three years and will again in 2020. He held down the second base position all of last year, but can play many positions on the field. He does everything on the field well. He has a very positive disposition and is a lot of fun to coach. He also became our Omaha Challenge Champion this past year.”
Ray also made an impact off the field as well. He was named to the 2020 SEC Baseball Community Service Team for his contributions away from the diamond such as raising money to help the city of Nashville in its tornado relief efforts and he spearheaded Dancing Dores, a Vanderbilt event in support of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital.
Ray was also named Mr. Commodore at the Vanderbilt Athletics Awards for his excellence on and off the field. News Channel 5 in Nashville paid tribute to him for all his accomplishments.
After earning his degree in Sociology and reflecting on his time at Vanderbilt, Ray was hoping to be selected in the 2020 Major League Draft. He was rated by Baseball America as the 441st best prospect in its Top 500 list.
“A 5-foot-11, 190-pound infielder, Ray would have gotten plenty of attention as a senior sign in the 5-10 round range in a typical draft year thanks to his versatility and raw tools. While Ray has struggled to put up consistent offensive numbers over his Vanderbilt career and strikes out too much—24.8 percent whiff rate for his career—he can play every infield position and has good arm strength, average raw power and above-average running ability. He’s more of a fringy defender at shortstop who could fill in at the position in a pinch, and he has never gotten his power to translate to games consistently. Because of his question marks, a utility role in some capacity is Ray’s most likely fit at the next level, but there’s some interesting upside that could be unlocked if a team can get more out of Ray’s bat.”
With the 2020 MLB Draft cut down to five rounds because of COVID, Ray was not selected but quickly found a major league home when he signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays on June 25. He would join fellow Vandy Boys Phil Clarke and Austin Martin in the Jays organization.
The righthanded-hitting Ray began his pro career in 2021 with the Dunedin Blue Jays and collected his first hit and stolen base in Tampa May 7. His best stretch came in June when he had three straight two-hit games including his first two home runs against Clearwater June 15, with his first coming against Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick Mick Abel. On June 19, Ray had three hits and drove in four runs against the Threshers to help him hit .313 for the month. He collected 20 extra-base hits, including nine home runs, and stole 26 bases in 35 attempts. That led to a late-season promotion to Vancouver and he picked up his first hit as a Canadian in his first game September 14. He was also reunited with his Vanderbilt teammate Phil Clarke.
Before heading to Vancouver, Ray got in a bit of Grapefruit League time with the Blue Jays this spring and went 1-for-2 against the New York Yankees in Dunedin March 30.
The 2022 season saw the 24 year-old Ray earn his first multi-hit effort with the C’s by racking up three hits in Eugene April 19 and finished the month of April by hitting .292 in seven games. His first home run came at Nat Bailey Stadium May 19 against the Tri-City Dust Devils. Another highlight was a three-run triple in Hillsboro May 28.
C’s Plus Baseball chatted with Ray prior to the series finale against the Tri-City Dust Devils at Nat Bailey Stadium in May. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
C’s Plus Baseball – Let’s go back to your time at Vanderbilt, a successful time there winning a College World Series. What was that whole experience like for you?
Harry Ray – Vanderbilt was definitely a great experience that I’m glad I witnessed and was a part of. I think for the four years that I was there, I learned a lot, played with a lot of good guys. I took a lot of information from the different players, coaches and things like that. I definitely learned a lot about just being a better baseball player, a better person, being a professional and just different things like that are some of the things that Corbs (Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin) preached on and harped on day in and day out. Just trying to be the best version of yourself and not really worrying about what’s going on around you and just trying to stay focused on the different goals you’re trying to achieve and things you’re trying to check off.
CPB – Speaking of Tim Corbin, why has he been so successful as a coach?
HR – It’s tough to put in one sentence or one saying, but I think to him, it’s more than just baseball. I think he harps on and tries to focus on the little things and the things that will make you a better person and human. And then I think after that, he kind of builds the foundation of that to roll it into baseball and I think that just translates you focusing on such little details off the field or in the locker room or different things like that, that once you get on the baseball field, you’re so locked in on trying to focus on the little things that it kind of just flips over to the baseball field. Now you’re very focused on every ground ball you’re taking in practice or just every little aspect that might get overlooked by some other people that he has kind of almost drilled into, but you’re not even realizing that he did it. So, I definitely think that it’s just his focus on things outside of baseball that really have kind of given him the edge when it comes to building a successful program in college baseball.
CPB – Reading your team bio on the Vanderbilt website, Tim Corbin called you a team player. What does that mean to you when you hear that, that he calls you a team player?
HR – I think it’s a very incredible statement for him to make. He doesn’t use (those words) lightly and for him, knowing him, that is a very big thing that he harps on and preaches on as being a good team guy and things like that. So I think for him to say that for me is an honor that he sees that. I mean, I’m just thankful for the time that I spent with him and everything he helped me with and still helps me with.
CPB – The College World Series run, you guys take on Louisville and when I google your name, the catch is associated with your name.
HR – Yeah. CPB – Talk about the catch and how that all broke down for you.
HR – The catch. Yeah, that was pretty cool. It was the semifinals for the College World Series actually. So we win that game, we go on to the finals essentially. And so we played Louisville before, two times actually. So we had seen them a couple of times now, so they knew what we were doing and we knew what they were doing. So it was definitely a very intense game and emotions were high. I want to say it was the 9th inning, two outs and it was a runner on second and the catcher was hitting and maybe it was a 1-1 count or 1-2 count. I had a play like that earlier in the year actually and I didn’t catch it but I think I still got the out, but I kind of just went blank and I saw it again and I kind of knew how to react this time. I just took off and ended up coming down with the catch and yeah, it was a very out-of-body experience. It was a cool, cool thing to look back on and a cool memory to have that will be tied to my name and the university for years to come now.
CPB – And the player you robbed happens to be the number one pick of the 2021 draft in Henry Davis. So yeah, sure, he got some big signing bonus but he doesn’t get that hit! (Laughs)
HR – Yeah, yeah, no, we’ll take that one.
CPB – (Current Vancouver Canadians teammate) Zach Briton, he was on that Louisville team. Have you guys ever talked about that since?
HR – Yeah, we’ve talked about a couple of times. We’ve talked about the first match-up that year when we played them at Louisville. I actually hit a double to win the game. And so we’ve talked about that one and then we’ve also talked about that game and there was a lot that went on in that game with their pitcher and that place. So we’ve kind of talked about it all and we laugh about it now. But yeah, it was definitely a good time.
CPB – Some of the teammates you have played with along the way. Phil Clarke, who was here in Vancouver. Jake Eder, also Kumar Rocker, Austin Martin. And (Clarke and Martin) were in the Blue Jays organization at the same time. You did get a chance to play again with Phil Clarke the last week of the season (in Hillsboro). What was that like getting that promotion from Dunedin?
HR – Yeah, it was pretty cool being with Phil and being in the same dugout again. Like you said, we played two years together at Vandy so it’s definitely a nice feeling to be able to get in the dugout and being in a clubhouse with a guy that you know fairly well. It was definitely fun to see that and in spring training, it’s always fun to see familiar faces and you’re always around them. It’s cool to be in the same organization as guys that you’ve spent two, three years with in college and you know them really well. It makes the transition a little easier once you get into pro ball and you see so many unfamiliar faces that occasionally when you run into a face that you know, and you’ve been around and can talk to, it definitely helps the transition out a lot.
CPB – I want to talk about the College World Series and getting to Omaha. I hear it’s probably the biggest moment of your career, with all the hoopla and all the attention that it gets. What was that like going through that whole College World Series experience and eventually winning it against Michigan?
HR – Yeah, I think the College World Series, it’s an unreal experience. There’s a lot of luck tied to it because it’s usually not always the best record team or even the best team at the time. Usually it’s the hottest team that ends up pulling that one out. So I remember Corbs telling us that, ‘It’s usually the team that’s the hottest that’s gonna win that.’ And so it was definitely interesting to see that match-up at the very end with Michigan because at the time, Michigan was probably the hottest team that was in that tournament. So it was definitely a good battle. But yeah, that experience was something that I don’t think you’ll ever experience again unless you’re going to a World Series or something of that magnitude. Just to be in that environment at such an early age in my career was definitely eye-opening, You learn a lot and you get to deal with a lot of people in the stands, a lot of cameras around you. It kind of gets you prepared for what I guess you could say playoff baseball and the big leagues (are) like, so it’s definitely something that I liked and I really took it and just ran with it. I enjoyed the moment and lived in the moment and just got to experience it with guys that were doing the same thing as me and we enjoyed it. And we really just stayed in the moment and we were lucky enough to pull through and win the whole thing.
CPB – You were looking to run it back in 2020 before of course, the whole world fell apart. The season gets cut short, but you still find your way to the Toronto Blue Jays organization. Talk about what it was like having to deal with COVID and then eventually signing with the Blue Jays.
HR – Yeah, that was something that I don’t think anybody really expected or understood what was going on. I think it was definitely a lot of unknowns and nobody really knew how to go about it. So it was definitely something that I was feeling out and everybody else around me was feeling out. It was a sad time for sure getting the season cut short and not really getting to finish what we started and having to pack up and just go home and not really get to get all the good-byes you wanted to get in. So that was definitely hard to turn the page on that. But then, I had to turn the page because I knew that there was something else that I wanted to do and I was just thankful that I was given the opportunity by the Blue Jays and a couple other teams. I’m glad I made the choice I made and thankful that I’m here and just getting another opportunity to play the game I love. So that’s all I can really ask for at the end of the
CPB – When did the Blue Jays approach you? Who did approach you, your signing scout? How did that all break down?
HR – It was a very weird process that I don’t think we’ve never really seen before. The area scouts were just reaching out and they didn’t really kind of know what was going on and it was just like a little back and forth. I remember Nate, we talked a couple of times before and there was a signing period that opened up, I want to say on a Sunday, a couple of days after the draft and I remember Nate gave me a call. I mean honestly, I want to say it was not even like minutes, it was more like seconds into the signing period and he called me and he just started talking and he was like, ‘Hey, I want you here!’ And so the urgency, I could hear it in his voice. That kind of gave me more comfort with making my decision to sign with the Blue Jays. So I was very thankful for the opportunity and I’m just excited to start that new journey.
CPB – That’s (Jays signing scout) Nate Murrie, just to confirm?
HR – Yep, Nate Murrie.
CPB – Okay, so the first season in Dunedin. What was that like?
HR – The first season in Dunedin was definitely something new. I think everybody that gets into pro ball, you don’t really understand when guys say, ‘Oh, you’re playing every day.’ Like what that all entails and how to take care of your body. So I think that first year was definitely a learning experience of trying to understand how to take care of my body, how much work you can actually do. Like yeah, you want to be out there doing stuff every day to get better, but it’s also like, ‘Hey, you still got to be able to play at seven o’clock every day.’ So you can’t be out there every single day at two or three o’clock during the day, especially in Dunedin when it’s 90-something degrees every single day. You can’t be out there at one o’clock trying to do all these different things for two hours. So you gotta kind of learn how to work smart and not hard. Get the work in that you want to get in and still keep your body fresh and ready to go every night to play nine innings. Because that’s what you are here for, is to play every day. So that was the biggest thing, just learning how to deal with my body, making adjustments on the fly because they’re making adjustments on you. So you got to combat those adjustments to be able to stay ahead of the game, I’m just dealing with ups and downs and trying to stay in the middle and understand that you’re going to be up, you’re going to be down and trying to be the one that stays in the middle the most and not really have too many downs. You could have the highs, but you don’t want to have the ups and downs. If you want to go up, then you get back to that middle, that’s where you want to be. What you don’t want is to get too down on yourself so it was definitely a good learning experience for me.
CPB – You got a cup of coffee with the Canadians at the end of the year. Now you’re here in Vancouver finally. What have you heard about playing in Vancouver before arriving here and what’s it been like for you?
HR – Yeah, everybody was telling me ‘Great weather, it’s a great city, beautiful places to go.’ And the biggest thing that everybody kept saying was, ‘Yeah, they’re going to fill the stadium out every single day’. I’ve seen glimpses of it so far this year.’ And everybody’s like, ‘Well that’s not even close to what it’s going to be like in the next two months.’ So for me, I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s gonna be pretty exciting.’ Even some of the few games we’ve had here so far, you’ve seen the crowd kind of starting to get into it and get vamped. To me, it’s going to be a cool experience to kind of see some more people back in the stands compared to Dunedin. Definitely you love the energy that you get from the fans so I’m excited to see this place get packed out.
CPB – I want to ask you about the home run (versus Tri-City at Nat Bailey Stadium). You knew you got it right away. Take us through what that at-bat was like and basically the feeling of knowing you’ve got it, you flip the bat and off you go.
HR – Yeah, for me it was just kind of almost like a ‘Finally!’ moment because I’ve had a couple of at-bats here and there where I felt like I was right there and just missing some pitches, so it was kind of a little anger got out on that pitch. But yeah, I’ve been working on just trying to get my swing dialed up and dialed in to where it needs to be and that one felt good. Like you said, I kind of knew that I got it and kind of expressed it a little bit. So yeah, that was a good feeling and I’m ready to do it again.
CPB – I just want to ask you a final question about your website HarrisonHallRay.com. Talk about putting that site together and about your experiences away from the field (such as helping out during a flood that hit Nashville.
HR – My Dad pushed that one. I have a website—Harrison Hall Ray—and it’s a lot of things on there just talking about me and some of the different things I do. There were a couple of times in Nashville where we had some things, we had a flood and different opportunities that I got to go into the community and help out. There’s articles and things like that. There’s hitting and fielding lessons that people can sign up for through me. At some point I think we’re probably going to try and get shirts and different types of merchandise on there for people to purchase. So we got it up and running, I wanna say, probably a year ago. And so in the next year or two, there’s going to be more merchandise on there for people to go get. It’s just something for me to have just so I can connect with different people and if people want to reach out to me, that’s there for them. There’s different other social media platforms that they can also get to, but just having that because you see a lot more guys with websites and just being able to tell their story from a different viewpoint because everybody sees us on the field, but they don’t really get to see when we leave here and we are humans as well. So there are things that we deal with and things that we go through that maybe somebody else is going through, and it’s an opportunity for them to reach out to me, and if they want to talk about something, they could talk about something. Maybe I’m going through the same thing and you’d never even know. So it’s just kind of almost trying to take the uniform off and show people that yeah, I’m also like, ‘There’s no difference between us. We’re all just going through the same things. It just happens to be that I’m on the field as well.’ So it’s a cool thing that I think I definitely want to put more time into as I get more time, especially in the off-season to work with it and try to make it very interactive for people and fans to connect with me.
- Walk-up Music – “March Madness” by Future
- Uniform Numbers – Wore number 2 at Vanderbilt and with Dunedin in 2021 before wearing number 4 with Vancouver at the end of the year
- Positions – Has played at second base, third base, left field and center field with the C’s in 2022
- Major League Connection – Played for former major leaguer Chet Lemon‘s Juice travel team in Florida
- Twitter – @harrison_ray9
- Instagram – @harryray2
- Website – HarrisonHallRay.com
Thanks a million to Harry Ray for conversing on this episode of C’s Chat and to Canadians broadcaster Tyler Zickel for arranging the interview.