When Stephen Strasburg takes the mound at National’s Ball Park tomorrow night, it will be of one of the most electric debut appearances in the history of the sport. Appropriate that on the eve of that event, Washington will once again choose the #1 pick in the baseball draft. Meet Bryce Harper- combination Johnny Bench-A-Rod-Lebron James.
I expect only a couple more years of baseball mediocrity and then- watch out, the Washington Nationals may be one of the best teams in the big leagues. They are already collecting a wonderful, youthful nucleus of real talent- Strasburg; shortstop, Ian Desmond; third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman (the veteran of the group), reliever Drew Storen— and as of tomorrow (anticipating the signing of one of the largest rookie contracts in the history of the game)—the famous Bryce Harper.
He’s a catcher for the moment but he’s also played 3rd base and left and right field. Some say that as a power hitter, he is a once-in-a-generation talent. Since he was 6, he’s been playing in leagues with competitors two and three years his senior. He’s worn out every league he’s played in.
As a teenager, a High School Sophomore, he set the record for the longest homerun ever hit by anyone at Tampa’s Tropicana Field- a 502-foot monster that was still on the rise when it hit the scoreboard. Watch it here. He also throws a baseball 96 mph and has blazing speed, often scoring from second base on wild pitches.
He left High School after two years because it was ridiculously unchallenging. He got his GED and is now playing college ball which made him eligible for this year’s amateur draft. He has a 4.0 grade point average.
He’s always played in wooden-bat leagues, so his numbers are not aluminum-bat inflated. Part of the reason for the wooden-bat leagues is not just because it more closely simulates the majors but because of the concerns he might seriously injure or kill someone if he were to hit with an aluminum bat.
At 17, he stands 6 foot 3 and weighs 205 pounds. He has an insane work ethic. He is also a bit of a character. He wears all that black stuff on his face as pictured above; not to deflect the reflection of the sun from his eyes, but it would appear, to scare the crap out of people.
He has a ritual in the batter’s box that involves putting the bat on the ground in front of the plate while he reaches down and wipes dirt into his hands (doesn’t wear batting gloves). If he does this in the major leagues, he’ll get drilled in the head by the next pitch so this is something he’ll have to change. But his mother says he does it for now because it is his way of taking possession of home plate. It is his. He owns it.
Sports Illustrated put him on its cover when he was 16 under the title, “The Chosen One.” SI also called him baseball’s version of Lebron James. He gets razzed a lot by opposing teams. They mock him for being the “second coming.”
He doesn’t do it any more, according to his college coach, but he used to give it right back to his competitors, usually by hitting a couple of towering tape-measure jobs to shut them up then mock them while rounding third and yelling into their dugout. On one occasion after showing up his heckling opponents by hitting a pair of homers he then, playing right field, threw behind a runner who had singled, trying to get him out at first. The opposing team jeered and Bryce took an exaggerated bow. The umps promptly threw him out of the game.
He is very much the real thing. Remember the name- Bryce Harper. This is what you get when you are the worst team in baseball year after year. You get the #1 pick in the amateur draft. Last year the Nats got the kid described as the pitcher of his generation. This year- tonight- they’re getting a power-hitter for the ages.
Lord, give me at least another three years, because after being on the receiving end of baseball’s kick-me sign, it’s going to be so gratifying to watch these kids turn the tables and kick the rest of the National League’s ass night after night.