Bryce Harper Gets It
Bryce Harper is not only extremely talented, he gets it.
For the rest of us, our talent ran out at some point, whether it was Little League or high school or college or even the minor leagues. If the game abandoned us, however, we never abandoned it; and so we talk about it and write about it and study it and take joy in noting that the third baseman is on his toes and moving with every pitch even though his team is losing 10-0. If our love for the game is unrequited love, it is nevertheless eternal.
Bryce Harper’s talent appears that it will never run out, at least not until the inevitable force of Time begins to work upon him. The game loves him, but he doesn’t take that love for granted. When asked Monday at the Hagerstown Suns Media Day about what he loves most about the game, he responded immediately.
“Oh man, the smell of the grass, the smell of the dirt when it’s wet, the chalk in your hands, the dirt in your hands . . . There’s so many things I love about the game of baseball. The smell of the concessions. The crowd. Everything. There’s nothing better than baseball, going out under the lights every night and playing the game that I love.”
That is the most romantic poem written to baseball since Ray Kinsella discovered that his dad was catching those games in the cornfield.
Harper’s slight slouch at the table and his flat voice remind us that he is, in fact, 18 years old, but his articulate and definitive responses to Hagerstown’s press suggest that he is as advanced in Life as he is on the field.
When asked whether he would have to get used to riding buses in the minors, he responded, “I’ve ridden buses before.” He delivered the line without a sarcastic tone, and quickly added that he would indeed have to learn many things, but it was a veteran way of letting us know he thought it was a dumb question. He also stated without prompting that he intended to sign autographs for every child who asked, but not for adults. If that policy seems rather harsh, then you haven’t seen the knuckleheads who ask to have 100 baseball cards signed so that they can sell them on eBay the next day. It was another veteran move.
Harper talked earnestly about the importance of the team, but when asked, he was not afraid to talk about himself and his expectations. This will probably get him into trouble with members of the media along the line, which he clearly will not care about. Not caring will, in turn, get him into more trouble. Indeed, Harper comes to professional baseball with a reputation for being cocky, but if you are simply honest about being that talented, it is hardly fair to be labeled as cocky. As Dizzy Dean said, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.”
Harper laughed when asked if he had any pregame rituals. “Too many,” he responded and he seemed most relaxed when listing what is, indeed, a multitude of superstitions, including “pants on the same way, shirts on the same way, when I put them on, right sock first, left sock; if it doesn’t feel right, take it back off, put it back on . . . five swings in the on-deck circle . . .”
Davey Johnson, a senior advisor for the Nationals, sat with Harper during the press conference and spoke about how the young outfielder had made an impression on major leaguer players during spring training, predicting that Harper would “probably get meaningful big league at-bats when he’s 19.”
It was Johnson who provided the best summary of the Nationals’ young phenom, saying that Harper has an “old-time zealousness for the game.”
Those of us whose playing career ended well short of the majors, whether it was last year or 50 years ago, root hard for players such as Bryce Harper. That’s because while we lack their talent, they share our love of the game, creating some kind of mystical connection that renders old men misty when holding the cardboard images of their childhood heroes.