Harbaugh will coach first base for Tigers in Florida

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh will join Rick Leach for a home run derby to benefit the American Cancer Society after the Michigan Softball Academy May 5 at Alumni Field.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh last summer, before throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers game, said he had always wanted to be a Major League baseball player.

Harbaugh, while in Bradenton, Fla., next week with his players for spring practice at IMG Academy, will do the next best thing and flex his baseball coaching muscles during a Tigers-Pirates game Wednesday afternoon at the Pirates’ McKechnie Field.

Harbaugh will coach first base for the Tigers for at least one inning in the game, sources Saturday confirmed to The Detroit News on Saturday. There also is the possibility he may don a Pirates jersey and coach an inning for Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, a Big Rapids native and noted Michigan fan.

Last March, Harbaugh coached first base for the Oakland A’s from the third inning until the end of the spring training game.

“I wanted to be a baseball player,” Harbaugh said during a news conference last summer before throwing out the first pitch at Comerica. “I really wanted to be a Major League shortstop or a pitcher or a catcher. Be a big leaguer.”

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Hurdle has maintained a connection to Michigan football through his friend Jon Falk, the retired long-time Michigan equipment manager who is pinch-hitting as equipment manager for Michigan while in Bradenton and this spring since his replacement, Brad Berlin, moved on to another job.

After Friday’s practice, Hurdle told the Bradenton Herald he likes what Harbaugh is doing by taking Michigan to Florida for spring practice during the school’s spring break. Michigan will practice four times beginning Monday and will have Wednesday – the day of the baseball game – off and will resume practice Thursday and Friday. The Friday practice at IMG will be open to the public.

The move has ruffled the feathers of SEC and ACC coaches and officials, but has also drawn praise as being innovative. Harbaugh said the team will have a number of non-football activities, and the trip also will allow the players more time later to study for exams without football practices.

Jim Harbaugh throws out the first pitch at Comerica Park during a game in June last season.

“That’s Jim’s creativity in spreading himself out and having these football practices,” Hurdle told the Bradenton Herald. “Once they found out they were going to be successful in planning something at IMG, they did reach out to us, Jon on Jim’s behalf about hopefully coming over that day, getting their players out to a game.

“Harbaugh is actually going to coach first base for the Tigers. I told him with his passion for stirring things up, why wouldn’t he just half the game, coach the game for the Pirates. I don’t think that’ll fly, but that’s right up his alley. I’ve encouraged him to try and get out early to spend some time with our group and our team before the Tigers get onto the field.”

Hurdle said he is excited about the direction of Michigan football. Harbaugh led the Wolverines to a 10-3 record last season in his first year.

“I’m still excited by Michigan football,” Hurdle said. “And I’ve been with them through thick and thin. And the revitalization of last year was fun to watch. I’ve got the helmet and I support the team.”

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