You see him stride to the plate and you can't turn away. Everything stops. If you're at the ballpark, you don't go to the bathroom or for a snack when he is coming up to bat. His name is Bryce Harper, and if you don't already know it, you will.
Once every generation or so, a transcendent player appears on the baseball horizon.
Harper is the new "it" player. Turn on ESPN on a Sunday night and the Washington Nationals are on the tube. The Washington Nationals!
Watching the broadcast, you know why the Nationals are the featured team. The camera is constantly focused on Harper even when he's sitting on the bench. The announcers speak breathlessly about his exploits, but they don't do him justice.
Once in a generation might sound like hyperbole, but not when you see him play.
I didn't want to like him. I read about some of the stunts he pulled in the minors, including blowing a kiss to an opposing pitcher after belting a home run.
Sports Illustrated featured him on their cover as the "Chosen One" in June 8, 2009 as a 16-year-old.
His goals were not just to be a big-leaguer. He wants to be in the Hall of Fame one day, but it doesn't stop there. He wants to be the best to ever play the game.
He reminded me of a player who is not in the Hall of Fame, but was a Hall of Fame player. I looked up some past articles on him, and sure enough, Pete Rose is one of the players he modeled his game after.
You can see it with how he plays. He's a throwback. He respects the game and knows its history.
While so many players stand at the plate and admire their handiwork when they get a hold of one, Harper immediately takes off and keeps on running, just like Rose used to do.
Everything he does is all-out. He plays hard and he plays to win.
Something about him changed when he made it to "The Show." He was no longer the player who antagonized so many coming up.
Cole Hamels welcomed him to the big leagues with a purpose pitch to his back a few Sundays ago on ESPN. Harper just dropped his bat and ran straight to first. He didn't glare at Hamels or in anyway make a spectacle out of a pitch. Hamels later said, "Welcome to the big leagues."
He took it like a professional, because that's how the game is supposed to be played.
Then he stole home—showing Hamels how he plays the game and exacts revenge.
I kept on switching back to the baseball game just to catch a glimpse of him while watching San Antonio-OKC Sunday night. I can't remember ever doing that before to watch a rookie, but there aren't many players like Bryce Harper.
Josh Hamilton comes to mind as a five-tool player, but he had many hardships before becoming the player he is today.
I don't see that happening to Harper.
His focus is too strong to let anything distract him from becoming the player he is supposed to be. His talent is obvious, but his hard work isn't. If you want to be the best ever, you have to work harder and play harder, along with being blessed with the perfect baseball body.
Whether it's ripping a shot to the gap, loping around the bases, running a ball down in the outfield or throwing a laser to cut down a runner, it comes naturally for Harper.
When he was called up by Washington, some observers thought it was too soon. His numbers weren't great in the minors and they thought he should spend more time there.
But you can't do that to a thoroughbred. You don't put him in a race against a bunch of old nags. You put him up against the best.
His numbers so far are respectable but not daunting. He has four homers and 11 ribbies in 117 at-bats, but that doesn't tell the whole story. His OPS is .901, and he's walking almost as much as he strikes out.
It's when you watch him that you see he's something special. It's like God said, "I'm going to build the perfect baseball player and out-popped Bryce Harper."
He's only been in the majors for a month now, so you might think I'm getting ahead of myself with the superlatives, but trust me, I'm not.
Remember what I said around 25 years from now when he's elected to the Hall of Fame. Barring injuries, that's a sure thing.
The question will be whether he reached his goal of becoming the greatest baseball player ever.
Yes, he's that good.
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