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Harper's kiss not that big of a deal

June 16, 2011

The joy of Minor League baseball, in some respects, is its imperfection. And its room for improvement.

It's here that fastball pitchers learn a changeup, and where fastball hitters learn to hit a breaking ball. A dazzling play in the field is often followed up by a YouTube-worthy blooper.

A few will make it to the majors, but most minor leaguers are simply having fun and bagging stories for the grandkids.

One who seems certain to make the show, however, is Nationals phenom Bryce Harper, an 18-year-old whose talent has been described as "freakish."

Harper has been drawing headlines for his performance on the field, but last week he found himself in the headlines for a mocking pucker he directed toward a pitcher off of whom he had just homered.

Almost as soon as the youngster crossed home plate, he was assaulted by baseball bloggers near and far, bellowing this universal message to Harper: Grow up.

We have our own message for the chattering classes: Lighten up.

This is the minors. Grow up? They aren't grown up, that's why they're here. This is the spot where this sort of issue gets ironed out. Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the epitome of class, was in town on a rehab assignment about the same time. Perhaps Zimmerman, or someone of equal stature, explained to Harper that if you try blowing a kiss to a pitcher in the majors, you are likely to have the Major League baseball logo imprinted into your jawbone in your next at-bat.

But for now, let it slide. As one writer said, Harper goes into every game with a big fat target on his back, courtesy of all the accolades, the big contract and expectations. And as teens are wont to do, taunts are greeted by taunts.

The Nats properly called this a "teachable moment," and left it at that. What will come to define Harper, in part, will be how he reacts to such moments — does he learn from them, or does he shrug them off?

Sometimes it's easier to be good at sports than it is to be a good sport. But that's part of the minors, too — curveballs present themselves on and off the field, and this is the place to learn the proper reaction.

We've been blessed to watch a young Bryce Harper learn the professional ropes. It's something many of us will be telling our own grandkids about some day. And if Harper feels he deserves better than low-A ball in Hagerstown, he's been good enough not to say so in public.

Because when he's in the majors we will remember with some degree of pride that for a few weeks in the summer of 2011, this was — as it says on the T-shirt — Harperstown.

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