Detroit Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer and NASCAR superstar Kevin Harvick chit-chatted behind home plate at Detroit’s Comerica Park during batting practice on a Thursday in August. They looked like old friends, even though they had just met.
Harvick was in Michigan to race at Michigan International Speedway and made the 72-mile drive for the game on a beautiful evening. When Mercer, a lifelong NASCAR fan, heard Harvick would be at that day’s game, he was eager to meet him — even though Mercer’s favorite driver is Chase Elliott. “I’m a big NASCAR fan in general. I like to watch it every week. I play the video game all the time as well,” he says.
Harvick had his son Keelan with him, and the driver and the shortstop talked about life on the road with kids, as Mercer often brings his son with him on road trips in the summer. Harvick looked right at home as he moved from one conversation to the next, talking with Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and superstar Miguel Cabrera, with whom he took a photo that he posted to Instagram. “Checked off another ballpark tonight!” he wrote.
Harvick tells Athlon Sports that he tries to expose Keelan to a wide variety of interests. He gauges Keelan’s passion based on what he asks to do, and he has asked several times to be taken to baseball games. The two have visited a handful of stadiums together, and Harvick has attended games at well over half of the big-league baseball ballparks, including several World Series games.
He describes his visit to Comerica as “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at a baseball stadium. Those people, from one end of the stadium [to the other], were great. Whether it was at the hot dog stand or at the beer stand or the front gate or the carousel.”
Based on what happened in the game, the Tigers are likely to invite him back as often as possible. Cabrera hit a home run a few hours after posing for that picture with Harvick. Mercer went one better — he hit the first walk-off home run of his career. Three days later, Harvick won the race.
Harvick has made frequent visits to baseball stadiums since his rookie season at the Cup level. He has thrown out the first pitch at the old Yankee Stadium (2001) and the new one (2011), plus at Rays and Reds home games and at the Eastern League All-Star game. “I like sporting events in general, whether it’s baseball or hockey or football,” Harvick said when he threw out the first pitch at a 2012 Rays game. “I like meeting different people and doing different things. There’s really nothing better than to come to a baseball park, eat a hot dog. It’s relaxing.’’
He counts new Phillies manager Joe Girardi among his friends. “Usually the first text I get on a Sunday morning is from him saying good luck,” Harvick said a joint interview with Girardi on the YES Network. “It’s been a great relationship that has developed over time. It’s always fun to have friends who do different things and are also just great people.”
Harvick’s interest in baseball goes well beyond the big leagues. The Kevin Harvick Foundation has teamed up with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to build several parks, including the Kevin Harvick Foundation Park at the Boys & Girls Club in Greensboro, N.C. It is a 92,000-square-foot, synthetic-turf, multi-purpose athletic field designed to host youth baseball, girls’ softball, youth soccer and other outdoor recreational and educational activities for at-risk children. Similar parks were built in Vero Beach, Fla., and Bakersfield, Calif., Harvick’s hometown.
Harvick played baseball, basketball, football and soccer before giving up all of them for racing, though he is an avid golfer now. One of the reasons his foundation has built those fields is to provide kids with the opportunities that sports provided for him. “No matter where I live or what I do, this is something that is going to be here for a long time and impact thousands of kids that run through this Boys & Girls Club and the community that are going to use this field,” Harvick said when the park that bears his name was unveiled. “From the foundation’s perspective, that’s what we were looking for. We’re all about the kids.”