Showing the value of hustle

When the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Mets Friday night in extra innings, the man at the center of attention was utility man Josh Harrison: not only for his walk-off double in the 11th inning, but even more so for his 10th-inning hustle, caught in a rundown between second and third.

Harrison eluded multiple Mets while stretching the baseline and ultimately landing safe at third base, while also allowing batter Gregory Polanco to advance to second and into scoring position. The play did not lead to any runs scored, but did amaze the crowd, boost Harrison’s Pittsburgh teammates, enrage his New York opponents and ultimately put him in the position to drive in the winning run in the next inning.

Harrison is loaded with talent, obviously, or he wouldn’t be playing major league baseball; but it was his hustle that set him apart on this and many other nights.

Hustle is defined by Webster’s New World Dictionary as “to proceed or work rapidly or energetically.”

In some aspects of life, particularly in business, the word hustle isn’t exactly a positive trait, often used to describe underhanded dealings or illicit behavior, like cheating or deceiving a rival.

But in sports, hustle is a valuable commodity. More than being energetic or fast, hustle is an expression of effort and perhaps most importantly a display of heart.

When I was a kid learning the play softball, my dad would rarely speak a word at a ballgame. He wouldn’t argue with umpires or yell at us about our mistakes. But the one thing he would say was “hustle!” In fact, he often told us: “you may not be the best players on the field, but you will be the first on the field.”

To coaches like him, hustle meant showing your commitment to your teammates. Hustle was the act of running (not walking) onto the field, getting into position and being ready to play defense; or aggressively running the bases, forcing your opponent to make plays, or sometimes to make mistakes.

In the case of Josh Harrison, hustle appears be a combination of commitment and heart, which reveals a pure joy in playing the game. And it’s not just running the bases – it’s on display with crazy catches in the outfield and a consummate team-player attitude, not to mention a perpetual smile on his face. Harrison’s hustle helps his ball club, and hopefully inspires his teammates to do the same.

In sports, those who hustle tend to be leaders, prompting everyone else to try to catch up. Josh Harrison proves that, night in and night out, from the starting line-up, as a pinch hitter or any place else his team may need him.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “Things may come to those who wait but only the things left by those who hustle.”

Harrison isn’t leaving much behind.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Her column appears on Tuesdays.