VIDEO ABOVE: 12 SPORTS FEATURE ON MBRAVES BROADCASTER CHRIS HARRIS, AND HOW HE HAS OVERCOME A RARE EYE DISEASE TO THRIVE IN THE BOOTH.
PEARL, Miss. (WJTV) — Mississippi Braves play-by-play broadcaster Chris Harris’ baseball life began in rural west Tennessee.
“Baseball has been a part of my DNA since I could pick up a bat,” Harris said. “…I knew it was going to be a part of my life.”
The little league star, turned college pitcher and first baseman for Bethel University traded a bat for a mic when his playing days ended.
“The first sport I ever called on the radio was a girls high school basketball game,” Harris said. “The guy who I was doing it with just said ‘hey you do the second half’, and I was super nervous, super shy.”
But for a guy who grew up listening religiously to the great Jack Buck on St. Louis Cardinals radio, Chris knew what to do. He didn’t have to wait long for his first break in the business.
“I was sitting at the Music City Bowl as a fan and I got a call from the assistant GM of the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx,” Harris said. “He said ‘we have an opening for our play by play position, would you be interested?'”
The answer was yes. Six years later it was off to Biloxi. Then in 2017 the Braves came calling.
“When the Atlanta Braves call – you listen,” Harris said.
Now as Director of Communications, Media & Broadcasting with the Mississippi Braves, Harris has called over 1500 games – all while dealing with something that made life really difficult.
“I had people look at me really funny,” Harris said. “I’d reach out to shake somebody’s hand, and miss them. Because your depth perception is off that much.”
It all started in college. Vision loss. Piercing headaches on a daily basis. Chris knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure out what.
“I went to ENT doctors. I went to psychologists. I went to brain specialists. Had an MRI, thought I had a brain tumor.”
And then finally – a trip to the eye doctor, and the answer he’d been searching for.
“I knew something was up because he (the eye doctor) started acting strange,” Harris said. “And he said ‘you have a problem with your corneas.’ I said ‘ok’. He said ‘you have a disease called Keratoconus.’ And I’m thinking what did you say?”
“It’s a rare eye disease that has no cure, and eventually you go blind. So that rocked my world. Everything that I’m thinking for my future has totally changed.”
Chris found a new doctor in Mississippi, and a new hope.
“I found a cornea specialist that pitched to me a just FDA approved procedure called cornea cross linking, which had not been performed in the United States but for maybe a year. And I’m thinking what in the world you know?”
But with limited options, Chris took the chance.
“So I went through this past baseball season, with the reality knowing this offseason was going to be a pain in the butt. Set up my first surgery for September 10th. Our season had ended the week prior. And had my first eye – my left eye done. Basically took them until just after Thanksgiving that they felt like the procedure had worked. And at that point they put me through fittings for what I call my prosthetic eye. Basically it’s an almost quarter sized contact lens that I have to install every morning. Once that thing was in, they had me seeing at a level I had not seen in years.”
The following month Chris had his right eye done.
“This surgery which was performed in Germany and Europe a few years before coming here, has given me kind of a second chance at being able to do things at a level I never thought I would be able to do. It’s like a player that had Tommy John surgery. You come back with that rejuvenated feel, like I can come back and I can throw 95 and hit those corners. Maybe I haven’t done that in several years.”
And for the 1 in 2,000 people diagnosed with Keratoconus, Harris wants them to know they can overcome it and still pursue their passion in life.
” Just do your due diligence. Go to the eye doctor. Get your eyes checked. If you’re experiencing some of the things – headaches, if you’re not sure why your vision has quickly deteriorated, this could be it. There’s help available.”