PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Willie Harris walked onto the field in a Mets uniform on Monday, and couldn't get through two sentences before a Nationals player or coach interrupted him with a handshake or hug. He and his wife drove up to Melbourne this week to have dinner with Ian Desmond and his wife, as well as J.D. Martin and his fiancee. He remains close with Nationals owner Mark Lerner. Harris' heart is still very much with the team.
Harris, however, is not. He knew by early winter, when his contact with the Nationals was sparse and the prevailing logic was that the team was looking for a right-handed utilityman, that he probably wouldn't be coming back. Harris believed he could still play, but hitting .183 tends to hurt your chances for a new contract.
So the Nationals' jack-of-all-trades took the best deal he could find, a minor-league contract with the team he'd tormented so many times in his two years in Washington. He's got a shot to make the Mets as a backup this spring, and he's feeling good about changes he made in his hitting approach. He'll just have to adjust to a new home.
"I miss those guys already, man," Harris said. "It's a familiarity. As people, you build relationships. You fall in love with that person and their family. You somewhat feel like it's your second home, away from your hometown. It's part of the game. You just have to move on."
Harris said he "put a couple teams on hold, waiting to hear back from the Nationals," but eventually had to close the door to coming back when an offer from Washington didn't come through. He rattled off names of more than a half-dozen players he still talks to regularly, from outfielders Nyjer Morgan and Michael Morse to pitchers John Lannan and Drew Storen.
Whether he becomes the kind of pain to the Nationals that he was to the Mets remains to be seen. For now, Harris is just trying to get his mind around the idea of playing against them.
"I love those guys," he said. "I love the organization. But now I'm trying to beat them."