From Florida to the Cape: The story of two junior college teammates turned Bourne Braves

From Florida to Cape Cod, Jack Duffy and Dakota Harris have been through quite the journey together.

From Florida to the Cape: The story of two junior college teammates turned Bourne Braves

By Mac Friday

Photo: (Pedro Blanco/Pedro Blanco Photography)

On a hot June afternoon at Doran Park in Bourne, Braves teammates Jack Duffy and Dakota Harris kneel together in front of the third-base dugout. Duffy, with his arm around his Polk State and Bourne teammate, listens as Harris begins a prayer.

Harris asks God for success, positivity, health and prosperity across the next three-hour journey the pair will embark on against their opponent. Duffy nods and affirms, envisioning hard-hit balls into the gap, diving catches in the outfield and post-game victory handshakes, maybe even a few autographs for the swarm of children that accumulate behind the third-base dugout at Doran. Harris finishes the prayer for the duo, and they play catch for the next 10 minutes before batting practice.

Out of just seven active junior college players in the CCBL, Duffy and Harris are by far the most successful, and both have blossomed into Division I-bound players through strong campaigns in 2022, only supplemented by the attention garnered on the Cape.

However, as junior college bandits, their paths weren’t always so definitive.

After a short tee-ball stint around age five like most children, Duffy gravitated toward basketball for the majority of his young life. By the time he made his way to high school, the Sarasota native was putting in major minutes as a dynamic sparkplug off the bench for the Sarasota High School Sailors. Despite his love for basketball, Duffy had an inkling to play baseball one last time and joined a Babe Ruth league, recreational baseball for teenagers. With most of the talented players engaged in travel ball, Duffy made the all-star team for his league and they made a deep playoff run for their age group.

Invested, Duffy tried out for the junior varsity team at Sarasota High School and to the surprise of himself and his new teammates, landed a spot on the roster.

“I can remember it clear as day right now still,” Duffy reflected. “I was at home with my parents, and we all freaked out because I made the team. I showed up the first day of practice and all the guys played travel ball together, so I didn’t know very many of them and they were all cliqued up.”

“I walked up for team meeting, and they go ‘You know tryouts are over, right?’ and I asked, ‘Today is the first day of practice, right?’ He goes, ‘Oh you made the team?’ It’s funny now because we are friends, but that was my introduction. We all became friends after playing for a few years.”

For many, appearance is everything and in certain situations, it’s necessary for people to adhere to the phrase “act like you’ve been there before.” For Duffy, he had made plate appearances and played baseball before, but when his number was called for his first high school at-bat, he looked like he was seeing snow for the first time.

“I was sitting in the dugout with my sweatshirt on and my coach told me I was pinch-hitting,” Duffy remembers. “I couldn’t find my batting gloves. I didn’t have anything besides my bat and a helmet and I walked to the on-deck circle with my jacket still on. I was freaking out.”

It took two pitches for Duffy to weather the storm, as he smashed a double off of the center-field wall. Over the next few years, comments flooded in from coaches and scouts about his swing and athleticism. After attending a baseball camp at the University of Central Florida, a Division I program, the Knights’ coaching staff told Duffy to come back. He was paired up with another outfielder to compete for a spot on the roster. Both players, left-handed hitting outfielders, went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts and a triple. A few days later, Duffy got the call and committed to UCF.

Despite pursuing Division I dreams, Duffy struggled at UCF with the mental side, focusing on the negatives of baseball instead of small gains. After the fall season, Duffy was called into the coach’s office and told he was the 36th man on a 35-man roster. He was the odd man out.

Then came a call from Polk State College coach Al Corbeil. With a need for a first baseman and middle-of-the-order bat, Corbeil brought Duffy aboard for the 2020 season. Still struggling mentally, Duffy was tossed into the fire and started to burn. Strikeouts were a frequent occurrence, as in 26 games the freshman was punched out 39 times with just 19 hits in 90 at-bats.

“I never really had an approach or anything like that,” Duffy said. “I was just swinging really bad and thankfully the COVID shutdown came because I was on pace to break the strikeout record. Corbeil gave me a call and told me I had to figure it out, or I was done playing baseball.”

“He’s a really athletic kid,” Corbeil said of Duffy. “It was just a matter of time with him continuing to get reps and work on his approach… Once he fully committed to baseball, I think that gave him an opportunity to really make that next jump and see the dividends.”

After being cut from UCF and his back against the wall at Polk, Duffy was down 0-2 in life. Something had to change or his dreams of playing baseball at the next level were dashed.

“In my head, this was my last season ever playing baseball at that point,” Duffy said. “I said screw it, don’t let yourself think about it and just work as hard as possible and keep all the negative thoughts out. No bad body language.”

In 2021, Duffy hit .307 with a .923 OPS, both just north of the team’s averages. It was during the 2021 season that Duffy met a young middle infielder named Dakota Harris. From Land O’ Lakes, Florida, Harris’ father, David left a legacy at Polk State and spent a period of time playing for the California Angels in the MLB. Two of Harris’ three brothers also played college baseball and are currently in the minor leagues pursuing dreams of playing in the show.

Corbeil just missed out on Harris’ older brother, Dustin, who is currently with the Frisco RoughRiders, the Texas Rangers Double-A Affiliate. At Polk State, Corbeil passed on Dustin due to another signing a few years before the arrival of Dakota and made sure not to make the same mistake.

“When Dakota became available, we went all-in on him,” Corbeil said. “The bloodlines in his family are tremendous. That is a family of ballplayers… That kid is born to play the game and he’s a ballplayer through and through. The family history is there.”

With the rich baseball bloodline, it was only natural for the youngest Harris boy to grab a bat at the same time he could walk as a toddler. For Harris, there was no other option but to pursue the game of baseball. At age five came tee-ball and a childhood filled to the brim at the diamond, both school and travel. Training alongside his brothers and father, Harris learned the ins and outs of the game and always believed he could make it to the next level, especially after watching them compete in college.

“I always knew that I could make it in baseball,” Harris said. “The moment I started competing, I loved it and once I saw my brothers play in college as a middle schooler, I knew I wanted to do what they were doing. That’s when I started to work hard trying to make it come true.”

Harris continued to grind through high school, priding himself on his defensive abilities and switch-hitting presence in the batter’s box. Eventually, Harris earned attention from smaller Division I programs in the area, but knew about Polk State’s reputation and the interest the school showed his father and brother.

“Most of my offers were from Division II schools and junior colleges, but another reason I got attention was because of my brothers,” Harris said. “When Polk came calling, I knew that I liked the staff right away and just like everywhere else I’d have to compete and they were going to help me do that.”

“With junior college, there aren’t a ton of restrictions and I knew that it would be freshman and sophomore year and that’s all there is, so I knew I’d get a chance to play right away and I needed to develop.”

One of the first players to arrive at the field every day, along with Duffy as well, perhaps no one embraced the grind like Harris. The young middle infielder has a drive in him that very few people his age can access, especially when it comes to his maturity. As a high school junior, Harris turned his interests to religion, dedicating himself to his faith. Duffy called Harris “the most Christian kid he knows” with his devotion to cutting sin out of his life. In June, Harris married his high school sweetheart.

“I wouldn’t say I’m ahead of the curve when it comes to maturity because everyone that knows me knows that I love to mess around and have fun,” Harris said, smiling. “I think it’s just a different route that God had in store for me and I’m here for it.”

“He is definitely someone who knows what he wants, where he wants to go and what he wants to do,” Corbeil said. “He’s been fixated on that and put in work to do that. He’s a confident kid and I think he was born to play the game and it’s what he wants to do.”

When reflecting on their friendship, there are two moments that stand out that brought the two Polk State products together ahead of their summer together on Cape Cod. The first of which involves Harris’ devotion to religion.

Harris attempted to organize a team Bible study with the Eagles, but after some time it became apparent that the plans were falling apart. Eager to still host the session, Harris rallied a few of his teammates to grab a quick dinner and normal conversation about faith. Duffy and several others showed up to dinner, where Harris handed him The Gospel of Jesus Christ, a short account of the life and teachings of Christ. Harris, Duffy and several others went over the material, asked questions and learned. The session sparked Duffy’s interest.

“Ever since then I’ve prayed every day,” Duffy explained. “Before I get up in the morning, before I go to bed, before my at-bats, before games. I thank God for my successes and all sorts of things about my life. I ask him to keep me locked in during games, to keep me and all the other players healthy and to help me play as hard as I can.”

Duffy and Harris truly got to know each other when their athletic health took a turn for the worse. In back-to-back games at Polk State, the pair racked up identical hamstring strains. Over the next few weeks, they drove physical therapy and games together across Western Florida.

“We were together every day,” Duffy said. “We drove to physical therapy, did therapy together in Sarasota, go up to Tampa to watch the game, we would go to the gym after the game, we were together every single second for probably a month straight.”

In 2022, Duffy and Harris had breakout seasons at Polk. Duffy led the FCSAA in batting average with a .442 clip, good enough for first in the state of Florida around the junior college scene, as well as a Top 20 mark in the nation. Duffy earned All-State and All-Region honors. Harris meanwhile won the team and conference’s Defensive Player of the Year Award for the second time, as well as an NJCAA Division I Gold Glove Award with just four fielding errors on 150 chances.

A year later, the pairing is playing together again for the Bourne Braves of the CCBL, but that couldn’t have come to life without the help of Braves pitching coach Brad Cook.

Cook was a former Polk State coach from 2011 to 2019, who regularly stays in touch with the program through Corbeil. While at a Worcester Bravehearts game last summer, Cook became aware of a Polk State player, Harris, on the roster. After introducing himself, Cook followed Harris’ journey, and when Braves manager Scott Landers said the team needed a temporary infielder for the summer, Cook called Corbeil and roped in the shortstop.

Duffy’s story was similar, as Landers and Cook looked to fill an outfielder slot, and taking a hitter at the caliber of Duffy’s was a fantastic fit for the squad.

Both players are set to play at Division I schools next season, with Duffy committed to Houston and Harris to Georgia, so while the future is certainly bright, the two are trying to enjoy their last few days playing together before they report to their respective schools ahead of fall ball.

“It’s fantastic for them both,” Corbeil added. “They both deserve to be there and they’re both good enough to play there. It’s cool that the two of them get to do it together and be on the same club and share those experiences. They are fortunate to play there and we are fortunate we got the opportunity to coach them here at Polk.”

Over 18 games with the Braves, the pairing has certainly made its mark. Duffy currently leads the team in hits with 19 and led the CCBL in batting average for the first week and a half. Harris showed off his defensive skills across various positions around the diamond playing in the infield, but also the outfield for the first time in his career. Over 98 innings played, he committed just one error and propelled the Braves to a 5-4 win with a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning vs. Chatham.

While they may no longer be teammates after they leave the Cape on Tuesday, the pair certainly share mutual gratitude to have played one last season of baseball together, especially at the highest level of summer ball in the country.

“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to play here,” Duffy said. “Especially coming from junior college and having the opportunity to come up here, only a couple of junior college guys did. I’ll always remember the relationships, friendships and memories we made up here… I’ve only got a couple more games with Dakota unless we play in the pros together, which would be incredible. He’s one of my best friends.”

“It’s pretty neat that we’ve been able to do this,” Harris said. “It’s been fun playing ball up here and continuing to get to know and spend time with Jack.”

For their coaches, it’s been an equally gratifying experience.

“Polk State is a special place and you get put through the wringer a little bit there,” Cook said. “The culture they preach is about brotherhood and when you go through all the stuff that they put you through, you get closer and you push for each other and create that bond. They both have extremely bright futures.”