LINCOLN — Ken Harvey's credentials suggested that he didn't belong in an independent baseball league, but that's where the former Husker All-American ended his playing career four years ago, having the time of his life.
The one-time Major League All-Star played portions of two seasons with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2008 and 2009. It was there that young guys, who'd either missed their break or never received it, looked at Harvey as their mentor. The vets, dreaming of reviving their careers, counseled him for tips, too.
Far removed from the glamour of the big stage, Harvey realized what he enjoyed most about the sport.
And it's ultimately what led him back to Nebraska.
“You've got a bunch of guys who were making nothing, who are just out there for the love of the game, who want a shot and just keep plugging away,” Harvey said. “I had a great time with those guys.”
Kansas City T-Bones players looked to Harvey because he was a former fifth-round draft pick who led the nation with a .478 batting average as a junior at NU. They wanted to know about how he reached the majors with the Kansas City Royals in 2003 and how his strong start to the 2004 season landed him on the All-Star team. Harvey answered every question he could.
“It was just an easy transition to give them advice,” Harvey said. “I starting thinking this would be a kind of a good move for me.”
Now he's dishing out advice with the Huskers, serving as a student-assistant coach while he finishes the undergraduate degree he began at Nebraska in 1996.
He grabs lunch with members of the team when he can. He sees them in study hall sometimes, too. He has class with a few guys, including Spanish with sophomore catcher Taylor Fish.
Fish is convinced no one knows who Harvey is.
“He doesn't act like he's a big leaguer,” Fish said. “He just goes about his business.”
That's by design. The 35-year-old Harvey is back at Nebraska to learn as much as he can. He hopes he'll be able to help along the way.
The players aren't holding back, either. Harvey said he tries to avoid breaking down mechanics because he's still learning the exact terminology that NU's coaches use to teach specifics.
But he'll talk at-bat strategy. Or dissect basic base-running principles. Or describe the proper mindset for certain situations.
That's why NU coach Darin Erstad wanted Harvey around.
“He's been through it here, and at the pro level, so he can relate to what they're going through,” Erstad said. “At the end of the day, we're here to get everybody better.”
Harvey appreciates the chance. He's not sure he could have predicted this a few years ago.
He'd been with the Royals organization through 2005. He was in the Twins farm system until 2007. He joined the T-Bones after that.
But motivation-draining rehab sessions ended up consuming his career. He had a bad back, a bum shoulder, two knee surgeries and a repaired Achilles. A broken bone in his hand was the final blow.
He retired to distance himself from the grind.
But that lifestyle got old fast.
So he called Erstad last spring. Erstad's only request: Harvey had to be sure he was serious.
“I told him, that the place I was in my life: 'I'm so bored, I'm looking forward to school,'” Harvey said.
He enrolled this past summer and hopes to finish by next August. Harvey added an education minor to the communications degree he'd started a decade ago.
The goal is to eventually pursue a coaching job, but he's taking his time and enjoying this homecoming as much as he can.
“I didn't really know if I wanted to go to school, but it got to the point where the itch was so (bad),” Harvey said. “My whole focus is getting my degree.”