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Cairo's Harris doing it all for Braves
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Florida Marlins first baseman Aaron Boone (8) tries to grab Willie Harris, center, as Harris argues with Marlins pitcher Wes Obermueller (41) along with Braves first base coach Glenn Hubbard, second from right, after being tagged out by Obermueller at first base during the fourth inning Monday, June 4, at Turner Field in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press
    ATLANTA — Willie Harris is a new name to most Atlanta Braves fans, but he’s such a star in his hometown that he already has a street named after him — just like the town’s only other native son to play in the major leagues, Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson.
    Harris scored the only run for the Chicago White Sox in the decisive 1-0 Game 4 victory over Houston in the 2005 World Series and then was celebrated with Willie Harris Day in his hometown of Cairo, a small town in southwest Georgia that also was Robinson’s birthplace.
    The street Harris grew up on was named in his honor, and he still makes Cairo his offseason home.
    Robinson’s mother moved him from Cairo to California before his second birthday. The link between the man who broke baseball’s color barrier and the quiet Georgia town was almost lost in that move.
    Now Harris — the only U.S.-born black player on Atlanta’s roster — takes every chance to brag about joining Robinson as the only natives of Cairo to play in the major leagues.
    ‘‘I’m the only one who can say that,’’ said Harris, who before this season appeared in 369 major league games with Baltimore, the Chicago White Sox and Boston.
    Harris was a senior at Cairo High School when the school’s baseball field was named for Robinson. Markers at the city limits now proclaim Cairo as the proud home of Robinson and Teresa Edwards, the former University of Georgia star and the only U.S. five-time Olympian in men’s or women’s basketball.
    Harris is Edwards’ second cousin. Harris looks and talks like Edwards, now an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Minnesota Lynx, but he plays as if imitating Robinson.
    Harris came up as a second baseman but, like Robinson, can play almost every position. Also like Robinson, Harris makes the most of his speed with his aggressive style.
    Harris, called up from Triple-A Richmond on April 29 when Ryan Langerhans was traded to Oakland, stole his eighth base and then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch from Ryan Dempster in the Braves’ 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night.
    In 93 at-bats, Harris is hitting .398 with 20 runs scored as the new left-handed hitting member of the Braves’ left-field platoon with Matt Diaz.
    Harris, 28, was listed as a second baseman in spring training but played other infield spots and every outfield position as he appeared to be trying to earn a possible utility role.
    Now Harris is a regular starter in the outfield, though he continues to take infield grounders in batting practice.
    ‘‘He knows how to play the game,’’ said Andruw Jones. ‘‘It was too bad for Langerhans that he couldn’t pull out of it to do what everybody was expecting him to do, but since Willie Harris has been here he’s been getting the job done. That’s what we need.’’
    Harris, who often hits second, can create runs, and that’s been especially important as Chipper Jones has been out with sore wrists most of the last month.
    ‘‘You can’t always rely on the big guys to get the job done,’’ said Andruw Jones. ‘‘Every time he gets a chance he’s doing it. That’s why we’ve got some wins.’’
    Harris has hits in 18 of his 22 starts. He hit .391 in May — eighth-best in the majors — and scored three runs as the Braves ended a four-game losing streak with a 9-5 win over the Cubs on Saturday.
    ‘‘Willie has been tremendous ever since he’s come up,’’ said Braves manager Bobby Cox. ‘‘He’s always in the middle of something. He’s hitting huge.’’
    The Braves, who open a series at Minnesota  on Tuesday, were off Monday.
    Harris hit only .156 in 45 at-bats with Boston last season and signed with Atlanta as a minor league free agent in December. But even when he didn’t make the Braves’ opening day roster, Harris remained confident, saying ‘‘Somehow it will happen; I just have to be patient.’’
    Said Harris this week when asked about his confidence: ‘‘It’s just knowing what type of player I am and knowing what I can do and believing.’’
    Harris hit .256 in only 121 at-bats with the White Sox in the 2005 World Series season. He had more than 400 at-bats in 2004, when he hit .262 with 19 stolen bases for the White Sox.
    Now, back in his home state, the Cairo connection is giving Harris a chance to spread the word about Robinson.
    ‘‘I don’t remember when I first learned that he was from Cairo, but I know a lot of people still don’t know,’’ Harris said, adding that baseball’s annual April 15 celebration of the anniversary Robinson broke the color barrier will bring more attention to his hometown.
    ‘‘More people are going to start knowing because baseball is doing a great job with it,’’ Harris said. ‘‘It won’t be long before plenty of young African-Americans are going to know exactly who Jackie Robinson was.’’
    In Cairo, Highway 93 has been named Jackie Robinson Parkway.
    Harris has his own street, but no marker on the entrance to the city limits — at least not yet.
    ‘‘I’ll be there one day,’’ he said.