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Harper's kiss got blown out of proportion

June 12, 2011
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

Youth is wasted on the young.

George Bernard Shaw hit it on the head all those years ago.

Why should young people enjoy the gift of youth? They can’t control something so concentrated and powerful. Shouldn’t there be a learner’s permit or something?

As life goes on, “With age comes wisdom,” they say.

Truth be told, youth and wisdom are life phases without owners’ manuals.

Youth and wisdom were tested on Tuesday with the debut of the infamous video starring Hagerstown Suns outfielder Bryce Harper blowing a kiss to Greensboro pitcher Zach Neal while completing his home run trot.

Thanks to technology, the clip swept the airwaves like a California wildfire.

This isn’t an attempt to condone Harper’s youthful actions or the wisdom of the media. But in reality, this incident is an electronically recorded blip that has been blown out of proportion.

The heat of competition brings out the best and the worst in some people. For Harper, it was both ends of that spectrum. And since he is a professional athlete, he must check his boyishness at the door.

Because he didn’t, a couple seconds of film has changed Harper from being the next American Idol to the next Lindsay Lohan.

The act was caught by a TV cameraman who was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Consider, this cameraman probably wouldn’t have been on the scene if Harper hadn’t been hit by a pitch and left the game a day earlier. He was in paparazzi mode. His job was to focus on Harper’s every move, and he fell into something juicy strictly by accident.

If this was any other minor leaguer filmed in this situation, this clip would be laying on some cutting room floor. The video would have been far less compelling if the rest of the story was included. The Neal-Harper sixth-inning drama was the product of an earlier episode after a first-inning strikeout, all in a series that rivaled Yankees vs. Red Sox for these young men.

Harper was in the wrong in the eyes of baseball etiquette. There is an unwritten rule that you don’t show up the other team, although that line is blurred in special situations. His home run theatrics crossed the thin line that separates celebration and taunting.

The scrums following game-winning hits, and the creative handshakes after homers are accepted celebrations. Baseball has a traditional conduct and a historic perspective of how the game is played, but there still are double standards. Players are forced to earn that pass, though.

Meanwhile, a sack dance in football and a guy thumping his chest after a dunk in basketball are celebrations fans love, even though they are in-your-face moments. They are considered to be gamesmanship.

Now, thanks to a lucky shot video, the player who was considered baseball’s next best thing is billed as its next villain. He’s a kissing bandit or a SWAK attacker.

If anything, the last week should have given Harper some wisdom.

We live in a world crying for role models, and athletes become the obvious choice. Early media coverage has made Harper the next athletic god for more than half of his life.

Harper is a child prodigy, just like Bobby Fischer, Tiger Woods, Michelle Wie, Wayne Gretzky and Jennifer Capriati before him.

For each, the build-up has been legendary. They were billed as saviors-in-waiting for their given sports. Then upon arrival, the quest begins to find the big flaw to tear them back down to size.

It’s the American way. And now, Harper is that lightning rod.

Since he was drafted, Harper has been considered a cinch to make the majors.

Since his signing, he was considered too talented to play in the minors. But if he had to start there, Hagerstown was a slap in the face.

Nationwide, columnists and bloggers have continously punched Harper’s immediate ticket into the Washington Nationals lineup as if it were a long-distanced dedication.

It all changed on Tuesday. Harper is now immature and too cocky. He doesn’t belong in the majors because he doesn’t know how to be a professional. He needs to grow up and learn how to behave. With his attitude, he is no longer a sure thing.

All because of a video clip.

Here’s the newsflash. The kid who was vilified on June 7, 2011 is the exact same kid who was drafted on June 7, 2010. All along, he’s been a young man with enormous talent, unlimited potential and superior drive that have made him very polished for his age. He needs to hone those talents into a professional career.

If Harper made any mistake last Monday, it was forgetting that everyone has a camera — be it on a tripod or in a cell phone. All are aimed at him, trying to catch something fantastic or damaging that will end up being published somewhere. It is today’s price of fame.

His only defense is he is passionate about what he does. Last Tuesday could have been worse. Harper was only slammed for a kissing gesture. He could have been Terrelle Pryor.

It all could be a blessing in disguise. It might take Harper out of the fishbowl and let him worry about learning professional baseball.

He has the best of both worlds. Bryce Harper’s youth gives him the extra time to gain wisdom.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Monday. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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