One of the first things that struck Harrell is that diabetes has no known cure, though it can be controlled in some cases with medicine as well as diet and exercise. Still, Harrell took it upon himself to become an advocate to raise money to try to help find a cure for diabetes.
Harrell said his father, Brad, has been controlling the disease with a combination of medication and a diet, but Harrell hopes he can benefit from finding a cure one day. Harrell took part Nov. 17 in the American Diabetes Association's Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes event at Minute Maid Park, walking with fans to raise money for research.
"The big thing for me is I care about my dad a lot and I'm doing this for diabetes research and to find some money," he said. "This strikes close to home and it's something I really care a lot about."
Harrell was plucked off waivers by the Astros in 2011 and appeared in six games for Houston at the end of the season. He overcame long odds to win a spot in the starting rotation prior to last season and came out of nowhere to go 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 32 starts as a rookie, earning Astros' Rookie of the Year honors.
Harrell believes he wouldn't have had a chance to even reach the Major Leagues had it not been for his father, who taught him the game at a young age while growing up in Springfield, Mo.
"That's one of the things that makes me want to raise awareness," Harrell said. "When I was a kid, my dad was the first person that got me interested in baseball. I wouldn't be playing baseball today if it weren't for my dad. He read and gained as much knowledge about the game to help me be the best I could be and taught me the proper mechanics."
In fact, Harrell said the mechanics taught to him by his father while he was growing up are pretty much the same ones he has now.
"My dad found out a lot of stuff that would help me perform at my peak and prevent me from having injuries," he said. "My dad's my biggest influence on my baseball career, but my mom is as well, taking me to tournaments in the summer when my dad couldn't make it because of work."
His mother, Betty, is a special education teacher. Harrell said his father, who manages a Walgreens, has been able to control his blood sugar.
"He's doing a lot better and has lost some weight," he said. "I'm hoping within the next year or so he has his weight under control and his eating habits under control so that he can be off his medicine completely."
Harrell hopes to do bigger events to raise even more money in the future, but for now his battle against diabetes marched on with a few important steps at the ballpark.
"It's something every year I hope I can keep doing and we can keep building upon it and make it bigger," he said.