Sean Harney is perfecting his signature.
As a result, Harney, who graduated from the University of Kentucky this spring, got a chance to put pen to paper.
“I’ve kind of mastered the John Hancock,” Harney, 24, said. “It’s just second nature at this point. But it’s really, really cool and I’ll never forget it.”
From Amherst to Lexington
As a freshman at UMass Amherst in 2018, Harney made the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team with a 2-3 record and 3.46 ERA over 12 appearances. He was invited to play for the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League that summer.
A year later, the six-foot righty started 11 games and went 3-5 with a 3.27 ERA for the Minutemen.
Harney’s junior season at UMass, however, was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly after, the 185-pounder decided to transfer to University of Kentucky. He loved his time in Amherst but with uncertainty regarding collegiate and professional sports, he decided to make the jump to the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
“It was time for a new challenge,” Harney said. “I heard great things about baseball at University of Kentucky so I reached out to them. After speaking with them, I knew it would be a good fit and I had a terrific experience there.”
In his first season with Kentucky, Harney served as a Swiss-army knife of sorts. Across 18 appearances, he started six games while also recording six saves. Overall, he compiled a 3.69 ERA over 46.1 innings.
This spring, as a graduate student, Harney held a similar role for the Wildcats. He made 16 appearances – five of which were starts – where he went 5-4 overall with two saves. He finished with a 2.62 ERA across 65.1 innings.
Harney embraced being a starter, middle reliever and closer in Lexington, Kentucky. He thinks his versatility may have played a role in getting drafted by the Rays.
“I trusted the coaches to make the best decisions on my role,” Harney said.
“(In) Massachusetts talk, he has a wicked curve,” University of Kentucky pitching coach Dan Roszel wrote in an email. “Sean’s (fastball is) usually in the low 90s, topping out at 96 with a lot of horizontal late ride. He has a high spin rate (curveball) that has a lot of depth and breaks late. Both (his changeup and cutter) were added this year and both are good pitches that he can show in any count.”
A dream come true
Harney was sitting on the couch at his Natick home on July 19 as he watched MLB Network on the final day of the draft.
The right-handed pitcher was scrolling through his phone and occasionally glancing at the TV. In the eighth round, Harney’s name rolled across the screen.
“My mom was right next to me and soon after my dad was home and we got to have a great celebration. My brother came shooting home as soon as he heard,” Harney said. “It was a really special moment. It’s something that I’ve always kind of dreamt of.”
Earlier in the day, Harney helped his former high school baseball coach – Jason Hoye – coach an AAU baseball game at New England Baseball Complex (NEBC) in Northborough. Afterward, they went out to lunch before Hoye returned for a second game at NEBC and Harney went home to watch the draft.
At some point during the second contest, Hoye looked down at his watch and saw a text that read: “Harney!”
Hoye, who coached Harney at Natick High, was psyched for his former standout pitcher. He called Harney after the second AAU baseball game concluded and congratulated him on his selection.
“It’s truly a childhood dream that very few people get a chance to do it – let alone a kid from Natick,” Hoye said. “It just happens so rarely. I know the community is really proud of him, too. There’s a lot of buzz around him in town.”
A few days later, Harney was in Port Charlotte, Florida, inking the deal with the Rays.
On July 26, he posted two pictures on Instagram – one of him in a Rays jersey and hat and the other of him signing his contract. The caption read: “Pen to Paper” with an emoji of a hand holding a pen.
“I think the Rays have acquired a couple new fans in me and my family,” said Harney, a fan of the Red Sox growing up.
“I’m just so proud of the kid in so many ways,” Hoye said. “I’m most proud of the young man he’s become overall and just having a good head on his shoulders.”
Harney is currently in an extended hotel stay with the other Tampa Bay draftees in Florida. He’s training and developing before a possible move to a Low-A or High-A affiliate of the Rays.
Like everyone who is drafted, Harney hopes to have a career in the MLB. He’d like the opportunity to practice his signature moving forward.
“Right now, I am enjoying the moment and working hard every day to get better and earn that opportunity,” Harney said. “Whatever happens, I feel blessed to be here.”
Kentucky assistant coach Roszel is confident in Harney's ability.
“Sean will pitch in the big leagues. It’s really just a matter of time,” he said. “He has the stuff to compete right now.”
Tommy Cassell is a senior multimedia journalist for the Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tommycassell44.
This article originally appeared on MetroWest Daily News: Sean Harney of Natick signs contract after being drafted by Tampa Bay Rays