Harper is modern, old-time baseball player

April 04, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI |
  • Bryce Harper, the first overall selection in baseball's 2010 amateur draft, signs an autograph Monday for 1-year-old Cameron Hiller of Columbia, Md., during a meet and greet with the Hagerstown Suns at Cancun Cantina West in Hagerstown.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

Editor's Note: Tuesday's exhibition game between the Hagerstown Suns and the Harrisburg Senators was canceled Tuesday.

Bryce Harper seems as though he were lifted from the widely acclaimed baseball novel “The Boys of Summer.”

The Washington Nationals’ 18-year-old outfield prospect is confident about his talent.

He understands the expectations that come with being the first overall selection in baseball’s 2010 amateur draft.

And, above all, he loves the game.

Harper, who will make his debut with the Hagerstown Suns in Tuesday night’s exhibition game against the Harrisburg Senators, spoke about that love Monday during the team’s media day at Municipal Stadium.  

“I love the smell of the grass. I love the way the dirt smells after it rains,” Harper said. “I love the feel of the dirt and the chalk in my hands. I love the smell of the crowd, the concessions and the field during a game. There is nothing better than going out and playing baseball.”

Harper, who signed a $9.9 million contract in August, will begin his professional career in the Single-A South Atlantic League. He left high school after his sophomore year in Las Vegas, earned his GED and played at the College of Southern Nevada, all in the name of being drafted as early as possible.

“He has had a remarkable spring,” said Davey Johnson, the former Baltimore Orioles player and manager who is now a senior adviser to Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo. “He has an old-time zealousness for the game. He plays the game like he is 25. His play has already earned the respect of veteran players.”

Harper, a former catcher who is learning to play the outfield, could be seen as a modern version of a character in Roger Kahn’s 1972 book about the members of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

“He’s not afraid of failure. That lets him set his goals as high as he wants,” Johnson said. “He’ll have times out there when he is overly aggressive, as opposed to passively aggressive. I love that in a player. Playing here will allow him to see players at all different levels. He has good habits, but it will allow him to set the good habits for himself.”

Harper holds himself to a high standard.

“I want to be perfect in every aspect of my game,” he said. “I’m going to be the biggest team player out there. I want to drive in runs, but I’m all right if I just move the runner. That’s fine, too. Anything to help the team win.”

Not only will Harper be learning different aspects of the game, he will be adjusting to the grind of playing every day and to living a life away from home.

“I’m not worried about learning to ride buses. I’ve ridden buses before,” he said. “5-hour ENERGY is great.”

Harper entered the press conference with his hat twisted to the side on the back of his head. But, by the time he walked to the interview table, he had pulled his hat down straight and gotten into baseball mode.

He talked about superstitions — about how he used excessive eye black on his face, making it look like war paint. And he spoke of his pregame rituals, ranging from music to when and how he dressed to the number of swings he took in the on-deck circle.

“I have a lot of them,” he said.

He said he loves signing autographs for kids.

“I will do that all day,” Harper said. “I don’t like signing for older guys who are trying to get it to make a profit.”

In the end, Harper is just an extremely talented young man who wants to play Major League Baseball.

“I’m just going to go out there and do what I do every day. Just go out there and win,” Harper said. “I don’t think I have any more pressure on me than I had last year. I don’t care. I don’t care what people say. I don’t care if I go 0-for-3 in a game if we win. You only have to average 3-for-10 to make it to the Hall of Fame.”

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