There is perhaps no more compelling story in sports than that of the young baseball phenom—the proverbial diamond in the rough who captivates us with his precipitous rise from relative obscurity into the realm of the baseball deities.
It is not so much that this individual seemingly bursts onto the scene with little warning and electrifies us with his extraordinary talents.
True, that is indeed something to marvel at.
However, it is the remarkable confluence of factors that attenuates this phenomenon—the discovery, the youth of the prodigy and the baseball prowess—that truly captivates us in such an inimitable manner.
This is a story that all of us hold close to our hearts—whether it be the fictional Roy Hobbs from Malamud’s classic The Natural or real-life baseball royalty like Mickey Mantle, Dwight Gooden and Ken Griffey Jr.—we are riveted. While this sort of thing does not happen often, it does seem to occur now and again, and although we remain mindful of all of our past heroes, with each new awe-inspiring instance we are tempted to utter those same words: “This is once in a lifetime.”
The emergence of Bryce Harper reminds us all that “once in a lifetime” is happening all over again. And despite all of the young baseball discoveries who have preceded Mr. Harper, what a story his is.
Bryce Harper has lit the baseball world on fire. He is at first glance the perfect baseball specimen—he can run, throw, catch, and hit for both average and certainly power. He even looks like he belongs on baseball's Mount Olympus.
And he is still just a teenager.
Although he is in the incipient stages of his career and has only just begun to kindle our imaginations, we are already creating fantastic prognostications regarding what this kid will be able to do. What will Mr. Harper’s resume look like when, years from now, he hangs up his spikes for good?
Regardless of what team you root for, this is great for baseball. It always is.
It is is this same love affair with the young and talented (and somewhat mysterious) that compelled me to write my "Legend of Mickey Tussler" series. Mickey is another one of these enigmatic talents—a young boy blessed with a killer fastball and pinpoint accuracy. He comes from nowhere and ascends to baseball greatness (the minor leagues in book one) with a whirlwind of fanfare accompanying him.
The second book, "Sophomore Campaign," follows his next season, one that ends with a hint of an invitation to the major leagues in book three, "Welcome to the Show."
However, what separates Mickey Tussler from Bryce Harper and all of the other young baseball anomalies is his autism—something that catapults his legend beyond the usual scope of interest.
Imagine how much more enraptured we would be if someone like Bryce Harper, in addition to his youth and inexplicable baseball skill, also was classified on the spectrum?
Regardless of the speculation, Bryce Harper is indeed the most engaging, enthralling story of the year in Major League Baseball. He has reminded us, again, that so much of what we live for and dream about is tied up in this wonderful game many of us follow with religious fervor.
Enjoy the ride—we may not see another Natural for quite some time.