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Parasiliti: Harper never met mold he can't break

May 06, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

Molds, like records, are made to be broken.

They are nothing more than pre-formed standards.

A mold is a model for shaping. A record is a standard that shapes all performances.

Bryce Harper is starting his quest to change both concepts.

Harper joined the Washington lineup just 10 days ago and has added a whirlwind of interest not only to the Nationals, but to baseball.

The 19-year-old former Hagerstown Sun has already made eye-popping defensive plays and timely hits, a couple already leading to wins. It took him only two games to move from seventh to third in a Nationals batting order that needs more offense despite owning one of the best records in baseball.

It all breaks Oscar Wilde’s mold that “with age comes wisdom.”

In baseball, Harper is much wiser than his years.

“I don’t think I have any more pressure on me than I had (two years ago),” Harper said on April 3, 2011 during his first interview as a Sun. “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.”

In reality, Harper has no pressure now. His promotion, although earlier than projected, puts him in his element. He has been a lifelong overachiever.

He has spent his entire life playing like a man among boys to become what he is today — a boy among men.

Still, popular baseball wisdom helped Harper get to this point.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson knew it was only a short matter of time before Harper reached the majors and predicted his impact 13 months ago on the phenom’s first day in Hagerstown.

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

Many doubted Johnson.

Every opinion screamed for Harper to be in the majors from Day One of his professional career.

Fans couldn’t figure why he wasn’t the immediate care package sent to rescue the floundering Nationals.

Harper’s minor league placement provided great fodder for endless columns from countless writers.

In all the confusion, most everyone overlooked one fact.

Johnson knows young talent.

He knows a mold-breaker when he sees one.

Johnson can hang his hat on a track record of handicapping that a 21-year-old Darryl Strawberry and a 19-year-old Dwight Gooden were ready to go prime time for the Mets.

“Again, don’t think age,” Johnson said Tuesday. “You think of talent and how they handle it.”

Which just reinforces Johnson’s evaluation of Harper last season: “He’s not afraid of failure.”

Harper’s stay in the minors wasn’t a matter of preparing him for success. That was a given.

It was more a case of teaching the wisdom of dealing with failure.

With a major league uniform as the carrot at the end of the stick, Harper battled through stints with Single-A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg last year. He started this season at Triple-A Syracuse.

“I want to be perfect in every aspect of my game,” Harper said last year. “I’m out there for me and I will go out there to play hard. … I’m just going to go out there and do what I do every day — just go out there and win.”

That wasn’t so easy in the minors.

Harper faced erratic pitching from pitchers who were either scared of his reputation or fired up to conquer it as the stepping stone for their careers.

Needless to say, Harper seemed to have trouble gauging the inconsistency. At times, he created his failure by lunging at pitches near the strike zone, basically going against everything he believed.

Harper would never admit it, but it altered his swing and his approach. He often said he knew everything was going well when he driving balls to the left-center field gap.

He wasn’t doing that.

Those small, individual failures wore on Harper. His batting average was down and his power numbers weren’t what fans expected. He had problems defensively in his transition from catcher to outfielder.

His brash personality became surlier in his time here as he pressed while Hagerstown’s overly demanding fans complained about his demeanor and lack of access.

Now, at least in the last 10 days, all those experiences seem like they happened decades ago.

No matter what happened in the minors, Harper has always had major talent and it is shining through. The quest for wisdom in the minors provided more pressure than the impending uncertainties of the majors.

He is focused and relaxed. His swing is textbook as he has been driving balls to the gaps.

There is little guessing at the plate because he knows there isn’t a major league pitcher who is swayed by his reputation. They are coming straight at him.

And that brashness has transformed from boorish to refreshing on the major league stage.

He is playing the game without a care in the world, like he did when he was a man among boys.

A wiser Harper broke Wilde’s mold. Now, he’s taking on George Bernard Shaw’s notion that “youth is wasted on the young.”

At his age, Bryce Harper has a lot of molds — and records — to break.

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

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