Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bryce Harper; As American As Apple Pie

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
What made America great?

It was our swagger, our arrogance, our in-your-face, I'm better than you and I know it attitude. That's what made America great. Once upon a time our nation could not only talk the talk but, we could walk the walk.

Now, for the most part, we have become a nation of coddled babies where everyone gets rewarded for just showing up and exceptionalism is punished rather than rewarded because cheering the elite hurts the feelings of the lesser.

Well, screw that.

America has a new hero on the horizon and his name is Bryce Harper. The 19 year old baseball phenom who may be a boy among men that is actually better than most men. Think a young Ken Griffey Jr, with the cockiness of Reggie Jackson and you have Harper, who may be this generation's Tony C; another brash and cocky 19 year old who broke in with the Red Sox in 1964 hitting .290 with 24 homers in 111 games and was on his way to super-stardom until his career was cut short when he was beaned by a Jack Hamilton fastball in 1967.

Now I may be getting ahead of myself here since Harper has yet to see his first pitch in the bigs and the highway is littered with can't miss prospects who flamed out once the got to the show. But I'm rooting for Bryce and you should too.

By all accounts, he is a good kid who works very hard at his chosen profession, respects the game and for all his bravado does not seek the limelight. Sure he's been called out for slamming his helmet after a strikeout and blowing a kiss to a pitcher after a homerun (the same pitcher who stared down Harper's teammates after he struck them out) but some people call that passion.

I wish Bryce Harper all the success in the world because if he does live up to the hype, he embodies everything that once made America great.

GQ
What makes Harper far more anticipated than your typical phenom is a sense that he not only recognizes the vastness of his potential but also feels plenty comfortable telling you about it. One minute he informs me that "baseball needs more superstars." The next, while discussing Albert Pujols signing with the Angels, he offers thoughtlessly, "Albert and I know each other and respect each other." In a sport in which "paying your dues" is practically in the job description—an institution that once made Michael Jordan ride around in a bus for five months—Harper seems to have emerged fully formed to piss off the baseball establishment.

On his way up, he didn't shrink from his sometime moniker, the LeBron of baseball. He poured vats of eye black on his face to make himself look like a professional wrestler. In a minor league game last year, after hitting a home run, he blew a kiss to the opposing pitcher. (Harper tells me, "It was an 'eff you' from the mouth.") That's the sort of business that will get a major leaguer a fastball in his ear. As Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt put it: "I would think at some point the game itself, the competition on the field, is going to have to figure out a way to police this young man."

In other words: Harper is awesome—exactly what baseball needs. He's essentially a throwback: a cocky, ornery cuss who can back it all up. Ty Cobb minus the racism and chaw, Lenny Dykstra before the bankruptcy. He tells me Pete Rose, a.k.a. Charlie Hustle, is his favorite player and that "I want to play the game hard. I want to ram it down your throat, put you into left field when I'm going into second base."

Respect is going to be the issue with Harper. Not because of his contract, not because of Schmidt, not because he's just 19—but because he plays baseball like he doesn't care about anything other than making sure someone else loses. After batting away my questions with Boras-trained noncommittals, he lights up when I ask him what he misses about being a "kid." "Playing football," he says. "I'm getting chills just thinking about it. That first knock of the game, you are going on kickoff and you are just trying to smack somebody just as hard as you can. That's how I play baseball. I want to hit you. I want to run your ass over. Sorry."
Via Ballbug and Memeorandum

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