So far, I’ve talked about players I enjoy liking. That is, I genuinely like the players (Chipper Jones and Evan Longoria). There is someone who I like as a player because he has grown on after having watched him play over the last few seasons including getting the privilege of seeing him play in person during Spring Training. Bryce Harper has a reputation as being a punk and has already established himself as someone disliked by other ball players. The fact of the matter is that love him or hate him, the guy is good and plays every play like it is his last, a trait rarely seen in today’s game.
Harper was on the cover of ESPN the Magazine as a high school junior. He was heralded for his talents hitting as well as his physical development at such a young age that led him to dominate every level of baseball he has played at. As most people know, he received his GED a year early in order to enroll in junior college to be draft eligible a year before he normally would have been allowed to enter. He attended a local JUCO where his older brother transferred to so he could look out for him, but in reality it was opposing pitchers who needed supervision when Harper stepped into the box.
He quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with at the collegiate level, hitting home run after home run even with the wood bats that were used in his particular conference. After becoming the first overall pick in 2010, Harper continued his dominance in the minor leagues before getting his shot at Spring Training the following year. By this time, Harper had continued his intimidation and childish techniques of using war-like face paint as well as having little respect for authority. There are YouTube videos of Bryce Harper being thrown out of games for arguing with umpires, and it comes across as him thinking he is above the game and knowing the strike zone better than everybody else.
Bryce Harper plays his heart out
After all of his shenanigans throughout college and the minors, I was even more drawn in to see Harper play in person. I got the chance to do so since the Washington Nationals play in the Grapefruit League with games in Florida during Spring Training. The first game I saw him play in was against the Atlanta Braves at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Of course Bryce Harper was trying to impress Davey Johnson to make the Major League squad, but he had a playing style I had not seen in the Majors in a long time, if ever.
There was relentless hustle on every play, in-between every inning, after every ball put into play, and any time he moved. It is instilled at a young age that coaches notice hustle, and it is the one thing you can do to stand out no matter how good or bad a day you are having. Harper definitely showed the fire and intensity of a player looking to become a teenage phenomenon as he sprinted every chance he got. It was evident that he was going to be a special player, as long as he didn’t get too tired or pass out first.
When Bryce Harper finally got the call up after a few weeks into his second professional season, he made an immediate impact and never relinquished his opportunity to compete against the best. He has been in the Majors ever since. His closest rival, Mike Trout, plays in the National League unfortunately, as they would be amazing competitors should they have had the chance to be on division rivals. Harper helped jump start the Nationals en route to a playoff appearance two seasons ago, and will probably make it back there many times in his career. Hopefully he doesn’t catch the A-Rod or Robinson Cano disease and try to garner a record setting contract that could ultimately doom whatever team he signs with once he is eligible to become a free agent. One player can’t win every game for a team, but Bryce Harper would if he could.
For his sake, Harper has learned to cut out some of the gimmicks that he was doing in high school, college, and the minors. He doesn’t wear war paint, although he does still use eye black from time to time. I’m also a huge fan of the stirrups look, as I wore them myself in college. He has a very old-school style in both his looks and his attitude towards the game. There have been analysts who say that he might need to tone down his intensity so that he doesn’t get hurt and can last an entire season without wearing down towards September and October. I say that his hustle and intensity is one of Harper’s best attributes and should continue playing at that level. That is what he has always done and all he has ever known and to change that could affect his performance on the field.
Am I a fan of Bryce Harper 100%? No. He plays for the Nationals, a division rival of the Braves, so I can’t exactly cheer for him. However, I do enjoy watching him play and seeing him make plays. Good baseball isn’t always easy to find, even at the Major League level, and it is even rarer to see a player play as hard as Harper does. He reminds me of Pete Rose in that he is always diving, sliding, and getting dirty. The aurora surrounding him on the field is visibly seen from his on the field efforts, from tracking down fly balls to running out a routine ground ball to the short stop.
If you enjoy seeing baseball being played the way it was meant to be and being done the right way, I highly encourage you to watch Bryce Harper. Seeing him on television is one thing, but getting to witness his ability in person is even better. He takes no plays off and goes as hard as he can all the time. He sets a great example for younger players on the field with his play whether or not you like him as a person off the field. He will be in MVP discussions for years to come, and Bryce Harper is definitely a great part of the future of baseball.