The Kid from the Old School
Whether or not the Philadelphia Phillies rebound from their slow start to the 2012 season, remains to be seen. But if we are watching the changing of the guard in the NL East, then the May 6 evening that Cole Hamels plunked Bryce Harper, claiming it was “Old School,” will certainly be seen as a turning point.
Bryce Harper, for all of his brash reputation, has been remarkably humble and respectful when asked about playing in Citzens Bank Park . He has handled it all as if he has been waiting all his life for these moments, as if he has been practicing them on some back field, running a video in his mind of what it might be like one day.
Harper told the press in Philadelphia all about the privilege of playing against guys he respected as a kid growing up, about how much he looked up to Cliff Lee, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard for the Championships they have won. There was never a negative word, though there is no shortage of opportunities to take offense in Philadelphia.
Harper hears it from the fans in right field and any other place he happens to be on the diamond. Intrepid Seamheads reporter, Rebecca Hall, was at the Cole Hamels game last night. When Harper’s bat splintered and left an ugly shard, the bat boy carried it back to the dugout to jeers from Philly fans of, “take it back and stick it in Harper.” Ms. Hall reported the comment as one of the kinder of the barbs that were constant and ugly through out the game.
Yet Bryce Harper has reacted to the boos and catcalls the way he did to Cole Hamels, in a very old school way. He has used his bat and his baseball IQ to send a message. When Harper was drilled in the kidneys by Hamels, he was 0-for-7 in two games against the Phillies. Since the incident he has gone 7-for-22 and the hits have been timely ones that have helped turn the tide.
It is not only the Phillies. There is something very old school about the way that Bryce Harper plays the game against everyone. There is the hustle that any one can see and the love of the game that just oozes from his every pore. Two nights ago, with the Phillies ahead 1-0, Harper came to bat against Roy Halladay with runners on first and second. There was no one out; it was a pivotal moment in the game and a tough spot for a 19-year old rookie.
Harper took a pitch that was an inch or so up and off the plate and laced it into the gap for a triple the way Yogi used to do it. Any hitting coach seeing Harper’s pitch selection would have winced until he saw the ball one-hopping the right center field wall, the two base runners coming in to score and Harper pumping for all his might for third base. Harper smiled at third base coach Bo Porter, but there was nothing brash or disrespectful, just the joy of delivering in the clutch. Behind the kid Halladay picked up the rosin back and threw it to the ground in disgust.
Harper’s triple ignited a rally and the Nationals went on to beat the Philly ace by a 5-2 margin. It was exactly why Harper was brought up from the minors far earlier than the Nationals would have liked. They badly needed offense and they have gotten that an more.
The decision will cost Washington’s owners millions of dollars, but there are few who will second guess the call. His slash line is only .267/.350/.467, but the eleven extra-base hits–three of them triples–have been timely.
In the rematch of Hamels versus “the Kid,” most outlets are giving the nod to Hamels. But batting second in the lineup in both games, he has gone 3-for-6 with a double, a steal, a walk and, of course, a hit by pitch. He has been on base five of the eight times he has come to bat against Hamels. Nellie Fox could not have done better. If the Nationals had only another Bryce Harper or two in the lineup they would have prevailed.
And in that sense Harper has been worth the money. He has not only sparked the offense, but also added interest in the team. The ink has flowed as baseball scribes every where have followed the exploits of a 19-year old kid who has done little to disappoint.
It is always early in the season until it is too late to have seen what was coming. Bryce Harper may yet lose his way against big league pitching. The league may adjust and the kid may not handle it as well as many would hope. But for now the hype has not been misplaced. I was a skeptic but had my conversion moment, not on the road to Damascus, but at Nationals Park when Harper stole home against the hated Phillies.
The kid taught us all a huge lesson. Don’t get mad, get even. And that is where Washington has gone so far this season against the rivals from the City of Brotherly Love. Quiet as Quakers, they have just won four of six against the Phillies. And that is the bottom line in baseball. It is about winning and that is where the Kid from the Old School has been worth every penny.