November 23, 2014

A Tale of Two Teenagers

May 20, 2012 by · 3 Comments 

Another teenage phenomenon has made his way through Hagerstown, only this year he was wearing visiting gray and his stay lasted for only four games. Dylan Bundy, the Baltimore Orioles 2011 first-round draft pick who is rated by many scouts as the best high school pitching prospect in the last 25 years, threw five shutout innings for the Delmarva Shorebirds today (May 20th) against the Hagerstown Suns. What is truly phenomenal is that a 19-year-old with such amazing talent should be so unassuming.

As for the talent, consider these numbers: Bundy came into today’s contest with a 0.00 ERA in 25 innings, allowing only 4 hits with 36 strikeouts and 2 walks. South Atlantic League hitters were batting .051 with a 0.24 WHIP. The 6’1″ right hander struck out “only” four batters and allowed one hit today, a double by Matt Skole, the Suns’ left-handed hitting third baseman, leading off the fifth. On the day, Bundy threw two curveballs and one changeup, and the latter almost resulted in his first earned run when right fielder Brenden Webb had to leap at the Mid-Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialist sign in right field to bring J. P. Ramirez’ long fly ball back into the park.

Asked about the progress he’s made on improving his change, Bundy gave a short laugh and said, “Today it didn’t really work out so good, did it? I think you all can see why I only threw one of ‘em ’cause it ended up over that white wall over there.”

Here’s another number to consider: 94. As in miles per hour. That’s the “slowest” fastball that Bundy threw today, at least unofficially.  In the first inning, he popped one at 98 MPH to Cutter Dykstra, while running the count to 2-2, then dropped a 75 MPH curveball on the inside corner for strike three, eliciting “oohs” and “aahs” from the Suns employees who had assembled on the concourse behind home plate to watch Bundy pitch. That curve was so overpowering that it not only froze Dykstra, it froze the first 15 rows of fans.

Two of those fans, who have attended Suns games for longer than Dylan Bundy has been alive, have their season tickets just to the right of home plate. They marveled not at his pitching prowess, but at what an affable guy Bundy proved to be the night before when he sat in the stands and charted pitches.

Dylan Bundy of the Delmarva Shorebirds fires a fastball to Hagerstown Suns' Billy Burns in the 3rd inning of Sunday's game.

“Nicest guy you’d ever want to meet,” said one. “He talked to people, signed everyone’s autograph, posed for pictures, and seemed happy to do it.”

“He’s a genuine guy,” said roommate and fellow right hander Parker Bridwell. “He’s the kind of guy who will never change, and that’s a good thing.”

Shorebirds’ pitching coach Troy Mattes echoed these comments. “He’s been completely professional from the first day of spring training through now. You never have to ask him to be somewhere on time or work hard; he’s been a consummate professional. You don’t have to remind him to do something or ask him to do something; it’s done. He takes it one day at a time.

“In all the conversations we’ve had, he’s never once mentioned the big leagues or never once mentioned Frederick [Baltimore’s high A team] or moving up or anything else. He takes it one day at a time, and you gotta love the way he handles himself. He hasn’t let the press or the autographs or the expectations on him change him one bit.”

In fact, members of the press had to wait perhaps 10 minutes before he showed up to answer questions outside the Shorebirds clubhouse because he was busy signing autographs by the Delmarva team bus.

“Sign one card at a time,” chuckled Bundy. “I don’t mind the attention. That’s part of my job. I love the attention, and I don’t mind signing autographs as part of a job.”

Nor is he worried about when that inevitable promotion may come. “That’s up to the organization and the people in the front office, and I’m gonna leave it at that. I don’t need to know about that stuff. I just go about my business,” said Bundy.

The contrast with the phenom who toiled in Hagerstown last year is sharp. Bryce Harper established an autograph policy upon his arrival here, which was not unreasonable on his part. He conducted himself professionally on and off the field in Hagerstown. (And while he might have blown a kiss to an opposing pitcher, it’s not as if he drilled some rookie upon his arrival in the big leagues as a welcoming shot and then justified his nonsensical behavior by calling it “old school.”)  Harper plays with passion, and one could argue that his brooding over being placed in the minors shows the competitive fire that burns within. The reserve and the intensity make it seem as if Harper takes himself too seriously, a judgment fans must make on their own because Harper has never really shared much of himself that might contradict this perception.

That’s his right, but he would be doing himself a favor if he did.  Harper does not seem to have any fun when he plays, and this baffles the average fan who is well past 19, has never had any talent even close to Harper’s, and has never been paid millions of dollars.

And therein lies the difference between two incredibly talented 19-year-olds. One has made it difficult to root for him, while the other has made it easy.

Comments

3 Responses to “A Tale of Two Teenagers”
  1. Mark says:

    I have a beef with this sentence:

    Harper does not seem to have any fun when he plays, and this baffles the average fan who is well past 19, has never had any talent even close to Harper’s, and has never been paid millions of dollars.

    Are we watching the same Bryce Harper? The Bryce Harper I’m watching steals home, pumps his fist, gets in the opposing player’s face. The Bryce Harper I’m watching LOVES baseball and i think that’s pretty obvious to anyone who has ever seen him play. There’s nothing — I repeat nothing — this kid would rather be doing.

  2. Austin says:

    @Mark – Thanks for commenting, Mark and yes, we’re watching the same Bryce Harper. I agree with the facts that you have stated. Harper is intense and he loves the game–in fact when I asked him about this at the Suns’ media day last year he gave an answer that sounded like it was from the script of Field of Dreams. Indeed, he “gets” the game itself as I wrote about last year. ( http://seamheads.com/2011/04/06/bryce-harper-gets-it/ ) I think you have hit on just the problem, however, that became more apparent throughout the spring in Hagerstown. Baseball has indeed, been his entire life and it just might be that that fact limits his perspective. It is the only thing he knows and perhaps he cannot appreciate his situation despite how much he loves the game itself. Not that he needs my concern for him, but my concern for Bryce Harper is that he will come to the end of his career and think, “I didn’t enjoy it enough.”

    Maybe he’s reserved in general and maybe his handling by the Nationals has been clumsy (which I would certainly argue from what I observed in Hagerstown) and maybe he’s having the time of his life. It’s always problematic when trying to judge what public figures are really thinking or feeling. What is it though that causes fans in L. A. (L. A.!) to boo Harper upon his arrival in the big leagues? That’s a shame and I keep arriving at the same conclusion: He’s too serious and too intense, which makes him a fun player to watch, but not a fun person to root for.

    I hope that clarifies my thoughts, but if not, we can keep “talking”!

  3. Mark, I agree completely and see Austin’s Orioles roots showing a bit here, especially with the bit about the Nationals not handling Harper well. Harper and Bundy are just two different personalities, like Pete Rose and Bill Lee. Those are just two polar opposites and don’t necessarily apply to Harper or Bundy.

    What I see here is the great opportunity for Austin to write the movie script about Harper getting in touch with his inner Bryce later in life–sort of a DeNiro and Billy Crystal kind of thing. I like Reese Witherspoon as the woman that Harper leaves cleat marks on in their first encounter, but who gets under his skin and he can’t shake her, goes into a 0-for-40 over her and that is when Billy Crystal gets the call from the Nationals. If you need help with the script I am available.

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