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John Harshbarger marvels at today’s Major League Baseball pitchers, who routinely hit 100 miles an hour.
“It’s amazing,” he said.
Back in the day, Harshbarger’s pitches topped out in the mid- to upper 80s.
“I threw straight over the top, and I kept the ball down,” Harshbarger said. “That’s where I got a lot of my success. I didn’t strike out a lot of people, but I didn’t walk anybody.”
His pitches were more than good enough during a standout career at Parkland College, the University of Illinois and professional baseball.
Harshbarger is part of a star-studded class of five baseball inductees into the Parkland College Athletic Hall of Fame. He joins Spencer Patton (2006-’08), Kevin Crane (2008-’09), Danny Winkler (2009-’10) and TJ McManus (2010).
They will be honored Saturday during the women’s and men’s basketball doubleheader at the Donald C. Dodds Jr. Athletic Center on the Parkland campus. The ceremony is expected to start at about 2:30 p.m.
Harshbarger will be there with his wife of 33 years, Tami, daughter Jenna, family and friends. Their other daughter, Karli, lives in North Carolina.
Jenna teaches and coaches softball at Monticello. She played at Parkland.
Two years ago, Harshbarger got the Parkland Hall call, but the event was delayed because of COVID-19.
At 66, he is the oldest honoree in the new class.
“It’s been so long; ‘76 was the last time I’ve been there,” he said.
Parkland started its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
The first class included basketball All-American Russ Oliver, a contemporary of Harshbarger, and Jim Reed, Harshbarger’s baseball coach with the Cobras.
In 2018, Harshbarger’s good friend Marty Kirby was inducted for his excellence in baseball.
Harshbarger is in great company in the Hall.
“It’s pretty humbling,” he said.
Back in the day
When Harshbarger played, the Parkland athletic program was in its infancy. The baseball team didn’t have its own field, instead using the diamond near Centennial High School.
Reed was a one-man show. And equipment was scarce.
“I shared a uniform my sophomore year,” Harshbarger said. “We traveled in station wagons. There were no scholarships.”
The gym wasn’t built until Harshbarger’s sophomore year.
A two-year starting pitcher at Parkland, Harshbarger drew the attention of Illinois.
He played in the later stages of Lee Eilbracht’s tenure as Illini coach.
“We scrimmaged them. We always beat their JV,” Harshbarger said. “He had seen me. Marty and I were the first ones that went on to play in the Big Ten from Parkland.
“I’m almost sure I was the first one drafted that was a former Cobra player.”
Eilbracht left Illinois as the school’s career wins leader with 518, which current coach Dan Hartleb will break sometime this season. Hartleb has 505 victories at Illinois.
Harsbarger pitched a nine-inning no-hitter for the Illini in ‘77 against Saint Mary’s (Minn.). He pitched 33 scoreless innings that season and is still in the school’s career Top 10 for lowest earned run average (2.92).
“I improved every year,” Harshbarger said.
He played against future MLB stars in the Big Ten, including Hall of Famer Paul Molitor (Minnesota), Kirk Gibson (Michigan State), Mike Boddicker (Iowa) and Steve Howe (Michigan).
The Illini played at the old Illinois Field, which is now the site of the Beckman Institute.
Illinois moved into the new Illinois Field in the late 1980s. Harshbarger likes the new place and the indoor workout facility. Both are major upgrades from his time at Illinois.
Throughout his four years of college baseball, two at Parkland and two at Illinois, Harshbarger never had a pitching coach. That came when he was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1978.
He went to Johnson City, Tenn., for rookie ball.
“I moved up from there and did well,” Harshbarger said.
He played against future Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg and Cal Ripken Jr.
Next was Gastonia, N.C., for Class A.
He got a stress fracture in his foot, which put him on the sidelines. At spring training in 1979, he had tendinitis in his right arm that was so bad, he could barely lift it.
He returned to Gastonia and stayed with the team for a few months. Finally, in July, a team doctor came to see him and determined he had an evulsion fracture. His pro pitching career was over.
“They had nothing invested in me,” Harsharger said.
While he was done playing pro baseball, Harshbarger was later able to return to the game as a pitcher in the Eastern Illinois League.
After his arm healed some, he helped Thomasboro win four championships in the mid-1980s. In ’85, his team won it all, and he met Tami.
“Quite a summer,” Harshbarger said.
Pitching wasn’t easy on his body. Harshbarger still can’t straighten his right arm, which is 4 inches shorter than his left.
Harshbarger is from Ivesdale and attended Bement High School.
With baseball no longer his career path, he returned to the state, finished his degree at Eastern Illinois and went into teaching and coaching.
His first coaching job was at Centennial High School with JV baseball. He worked at Potomac, then Bement for 13 years, then DeLand.
He finished his career at Monticello, where he spent 17 years as a coach, teacher and school counselor.
During his career, Harshbarger coached football, basketball, baseball, track, softball and golf.
“I did about everything except wrestling and volleyball,” he said.
Barshbarger remains a baseball fan, following the Chicago White Sox and Cardinals the most.
His all-time favorite players: former Cubs star Ferguson Jenkins and Cardinals ace Bob Gibson. He met Hall of Famer Jenkins at spring training in Arizona.