At age 20, Bryce Harper isn't just a good player—he's putting together one of the most impressive starts to a young career in baseball history.
Yet his personality and game aren't universally praised by baseball fans.
Instead of adjectives like "hard-working" or "gifted," Harper has been described as "cocky" or "smug" as he's risen in prominence from a high school player in Nevada to the No. 1 overall selection by the Nationals in the 2010 Draft.
Thanks to the ESPN documentary Bryce Begins, the negative perception seems to have lifted in exchange for a closer look into the person and player Bryce Harper truly seems to be, both on and off the field.
From the Sports Illustrated cover issue during his high school days to blowing a kiss at an opposing pitcher during his brief minor league career, two things became quite clear about this phenom: he was talented and confident.
Furthermore, as Cal Ripken talked about in the documentary, his status and legend grew during his power showcase at Tropicana Field when he competed in an amateur home run derby.
As his rise led to a 2012 call-up with the Nationals, Harper's exposure grew exponentially. Not only did he play the game well—he threw at 110 MPH, ran out grounders, took the extra base and played with a bravado rarely seen in young players.
If you were following along with the reaction on social media, the tide of perception and judgement shifted over the course of the hour on ESPN. Harper's personality and work ethic, not to mention strong family ties and respect for his father, became evident. He didn't reach the level he's at solely on natural gifts. Harper worked for what he achieved, pushed by his clear love of the sport.
Fans change as eras change, but one thing remains constant: if an athlete gives his all, it will be appreciated.
Throughout the film, it's clear that Harper's life is dedicated to being the best player he can be, both for his team and the game. When fan allegiances and perceptions are cast aside, all fans can appreciate that attribute.
Harper's rise is very reminiscent of LeBron James' ascent atop the basketball world at a young age.
Both were insanely talented and ahead of all of their peers. Both stepped into losing situations and immediately had an impact. Both oozed a love for the game, a desire to be the best and the talent to see that goal become a reality.
Of course, both also were met with criticism, largely based in jealousy. Intense media exposure didn't help their cause.
As the years go on, expect Harper to run the gamut from praise to contempt based on his play, salary and the nature of the fans.
If you're skeptical on the sincerity of his comments in Bryce Begins, it's not uncommon. Young athletes, especially the best of the best, are often out for support. In the case of Alex Rodriguez, he said and did all the right things at the age of 20, but became a distraction off the field for his team as his career went on.
On the other hand, it was clear from the moment that A-Rod stepped in front of a camera that he loved the game of baseball more than anything. Hate him or not, his comments and drive still echo that.
Harper came across the same way, if not more gregarious and less rehearsed.
The process of winning over his haters will likely take an entire Hall of Fame career, but last night, he made quite a number of fans based solely on the kid he is and baseball player he strives to be.
Are you a fan of Bryce Harper?