Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has been the talk of Major League Baseball for years, long before he was taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.
The slugger graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old junior in high school when he was declared "Baseball's Chosen One." After winning National League Rookie of the Year at the age of 19 in 2012 and starting off like a house on fire this year, Harper's stock is greater than Apple, Facebook and Google combined.
Harper recently passed the 162-game mark for his career, a full season's worth of games. During that span, which has covered April 28, 2012, through April 27, 2013, he has put up eye-popping numbers for anyone, much less someone who just turned 20 last October.
He has hit .283/.354/.515 with 31 home runs, 77 RBI, 116 runs scored, 19 stolen bases and a very good 135-69 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Because of his rare ability, not to mention incredible work ethic and hustle on the field, Harper was the subject of an ESPN documentary that aired on Tuesday night called Bryce Begins. The title, at least to me, is a takeoff on the Christopher Nolan Batman Begins, which dove deep into the origins of the Caped Crusader to show how he became a legend to the people of Gotham City.
Harper may not be donning a cape or boast the same detective and ninja skills that Bruce Wayne does, but he might be the best pure talent we have seen on a baseball field in a long, long time.
Here are some of the stories that we took away from the ESPN documentary, as well as some reaction from around the web.
What, Exactly, Is "Bryce Begins"?
It was a documentary filmed over the course of Harper's rookie season in the big leagues and Opening Day 2013. It contained exclusive interviews with the star outfielder, Cal Ripken Jr., Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, Ron Harper (Bryce's father) and many others.
The purpose was to provide some context about what it was like to be the most-hyped prospect in draft history, some common misconceptions about Harper as both a person and player, as well as looking at aspects of his game.
People will try to pick it apart as being self-indulgent, another way for Harper to put his face out there and try changing opinions about him. A lot of people don't like him because they feel he is arrogant or cocky. That is addressed in the documentary, rest assured.
You can't possibly please everyone all the time, and Harper seemed to have an understanding of that in the film. He didn't mind getting booed when he made his debut at Dodger Stadium last year, but spoke kindly of the Washington crowd that gave him a standing ovation just days later.
Harper doesn't try to sugar coat who he is, what he wants or how he will get it. One truly honest moment came near the end when he is accepting his Rookie of the Year award. He showed humility and grace in his speech, then acted like he had no idea what to make of it.
Sean Furney provided the actual quote that Harper used when asked what that Rookie of the Year award meant to him.
We get so worked up about who should be holding these plaques when the season is over, and here comes Harper, playing calm and cool, just saying that all it is is a piece of wood with some names on it.
The Legend Is Born
Even before Harper was gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2009, he was becoming an Internet sensation thanks to his performance with a travel team and in a home run derby event held at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field.
It was at this event in 2008, which is chronicled in the documentary, where Harper famously hit a home run 502 feet. That was the first video of the young phenom that really started circulating on the Internet and made him into a viral superstar.
As the documentary notes, that was when Tom Verducci initially got the idea to profile Harper in Sports Illustrated as a 16-year-old.
One interesting note from the SI cover that Verducci talks about is how much backlash there was to putting a baseball player that young—not even in the pros—on the cover of a national magazine.
Safe to say that Verducci and the SI decision-makers got the last laugh on that one.
The Blown Kiss
The most infamous moment of Harper's minor league career came in 2011, when he blew a kiss at an opposing pitcher after hitting a home run. That was the moment where a lot of articles started being written about how bad his attitude was on the field.
Michael Hurley of NESN.com wrote after that game two years ago Harper "showed great immaturity" by staring at his home run and showing up the opposing pitcher:
"The kid, no doubt, will be great, but he needs to get a little less excited for his Single-A accomplishments. Pretty sure they don't read those at your Hall of Fame induction."
Yet very few outlets wanted to talk about the whole story, which was the opposing pitcher was running his mouth all game long.
Did Harper have a poor reaction to the situation? Perhaps. But name one player who wouldn't admire his handiwork if it came at the expense of an arrogant pitcher more concerned with talking than throwing the ball over the plate?
Bryce Harper's Swing, Slowed Down
As great as Harper is, he does things in the batter's box that no one could or should try to duplicate. His swing is very violent and aggressive, yet somehow he makes it work for him.
My favorite part of the documentary was it showed Ripken and Verducci breaking down Harper's swing in slow motion. We all look at it in real life and see how he is able to hit balls out, but it is only when you slow things down that you can appreciate just how impressive he is with the bat.
Harper's load as the ball is traveling helps him generate a lot of that power, as does his incredibly quick hips and hands. But his lower half is very unusual, as he gets out on his front foot and takes his back foot off the ground.
If a hitting coach in the big leagues saw you lift your back leg in mid-swing and put it back down, they would say you looked like one of the worst hitters in the world.
Tripp Atkinson noted that, because of Harper's unique swing mechanics, you would assume that hitting was a real chore.
That's a big part of what makes baseball so special: Even when something looks completely wrong, it can work under the right circumstances.
"That's a clown question, bro."
You couldn't have a documentary about Bryce Harper without touching on the most famous catchphrase baseball has seen in the 21st century.
In case you don't know the story, the Nationals were in Toronto for a series when a reporter asked Harper what kind of beer he liked to drink on the road. The 19-year-old dodged the obvious set-up question by providing the quote you see above.
What made the moment even better is how quickly that became the motto for stupid questions all over the place. The documentary showed how it was actually a category on Jeopardy! and United States Senator Harry Reid from Nevada actually used it to respond to a question.
One thing that we tend to take for granted with athletes, especially with a player like Harper, who has been under the microscope for so long at such a young age, is where they came from.
Harper grew up in Las Vegas with a working-class family, led by his father Ron. The documentary shows Ron with his ironworking crew doing their daily job. It then transitions into Bryce talking about how his father's sense of self and work ethic inspired him to work as hard as he does.
People who don't like Harper want to think that he is spoiled and coddled, but this is clearly a young man who has done everything that was ever asked of him, and then some, to get where he is today.
You can clearly see the love and respect Bryce has for his father, which has helped make him the person he is today.
Whether you like Harper's in-your-face personality or not, you have to admit that he is fun to watch. This documentary likely won't change your opinion of him, one way or the other. If you liked him going in, you probably like him more now. If you didn't, well, that is your prerogative.
But don't take a rare talent like Harper for granted. He has proven himself to be capable of doing things that very few players in history have. Love him or hate him, when you see greatness, you can't help but keep watching.
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