The Bryce Harper Era is finally upon us. Whether you’re ready for it or not, are a fan of him or not, it just doesn’t matter. He’s here, and he’s making his mark in a big way.
For just a second, let’s forget about the multiple YouTube videos that show Harper launching BP pitches into the stratosphere, or the videos showing him swing that over-sized bat. He hasn’t hit his first bomb just yet, but I’m OK with that considering that five of his eight hits are doubles.
Let’s try not to judge him on those infamous videos that depict Harper as a hot-headed, ejection-prone, kiss-blowing, spoiled celebrity. He did get thrown out of a JUCO game, blow a kiss to a pitcher he just took deep (a pitcher that did in fact throw at a few of Harper’s teammates and talked his fair share of smack) and signed for a pretty penny. But in his first week, you know you didn’t see that kid in a big league uniform.
I want to look at his very first AB against the Dodgers. The AB where he showed patience. The AB that despite dribbling a ground ball back to the pitcher, Harper made a point of busting it down the line as if his hair was on fire, and turning a routine play into a bang-bang play.
I want to look at the converted outfielder that was accused as early as last season as someone who would rather show off his hose than throw to the correct base/cutoff man. In his first week, he did an excellent job cutting base hits down to singles by not only getting to them quickly, but throwing to the correct base. Let’s not forget that he should have been credited with throwing to base runners out at the plate. (Did you see where he caught the second fly ball?)
I want to look at the kid that runs as if his life depends on it, whether that means crashing into the center field wall at Dodger Stadium, going first to third, or turning a seeing-eye single into a double.
I want to look at the rookie’s reaction to getting drilled by Cole Hamels… his initiation to the Big Leagues as Hamels would like you to believe. Harper didn’t give Hamels a dirty look or stare-down. He took his base, moved his way around to third, and ON A PICK OFF ATTEMPT to first base, snagged home plate on the guy that plunked him.
Look, I’m not trying to get you to root for Bryce Harper if you don’t like him. My Dad won’t let go of a picture that shows Harper wearing his hat a little off to the side. I’m not trying to remind you of the SI article… excuse me… SI cover, that anointed the then 16 year old as The Chosen One. (The article actually painted the picture of a kid that is a far cry from the videos many judge him on.) Not to make an excuse for the kid, but all I know is, when I was named the All-Area Player of the Year as a 17 year old, my head got a little inflated. I couldn’t imagine where my ego would be if I wore The Chosen One title!
What I do want you to take note of: the way Harper plays the game.
Say what you want about the kid, you can’t deny his desire to go all out whenever possible. He runs hard. He swings the bat with conviction… even when he hits the ball to the opposite field. He expects to catch everything hit his way.
Some people may argue that it’s easier for him to play this way, or even that his actions are a touch phony or over-done. I disagree. If anyone on the Nationals thought so, Cole Hamels wouldn’t have been thrown at after he dropped Harper. Teammates don’t back up guys they don’t believe in. The Nats backed Harper.
So what’s the moral of today’s story? Well as a person who has not only witnessed but experienced diminishing skills no matter how hard I tried to maintain them, the moral is this: Use what you’ve got while you’ve got it. No. FLAUNT what you’ve got while you’ve got it, and work on keeping it for as long as you can. Bryce Harper has only scratched the surface, but he is playing like today will be the last time he plays the game.
Many ball players take the easy route. Jogging when they could be running. Walking when they could be jogging. Not making a full effort. (There is no such thing as “extra effort,” only your full effort, or less than that.) Wasting ABs with bad swings or poor game plans. Opting to let the ball fall in/get through instead of laying out. Failing to back up bases. Failing to take the extra base. (Is there such thing as the “extra base?” Hmm.) Etc, etc, etc…
Don’t be like every other player.
Don’t like Bryce Harper? Try to play harder than he does. Like Bryce Harper? Try and play as hard as he does.
Either way, it’s a win-win for everyone.