Bryce Harper, all of 19 years old, currently resides on a MLB roster. His debut with the Washington Nationals showcased the stereotypes pundits love to spout. The swing, that uncoiled from his heel’s array of movement that produces batting practice bombs and shots off the centerfield wall at Dodger Stadium.
The arm, an underrated aspect of Harper’s makeup, which appeared in the seventh when he torched a throw from left to beat Jerry Hairston to the plate. Unfortunately, his catcher, Wilson Ramos failed to hang onto the ball.
And of course, the bravado. Harper acted like he belonged on a big league field and based on his initial performance — that included a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the ninth inning, not to mention going 1-3 with a walk and a great defensive play in his second start — it may not be healthy that the Nationals force a trip back to the minors.
But again, Harper is 19.
He’s riding in charter planes and staying in five-star hotels and conversing with national media and hearing himself booed in his first major league at-bat. His peers are sitting in Psychology, waking and baking, getting by on Ramen and hoping the professor doesn’t call on them.
There’s a price to precociousness and Harper won’t ever live the same life as millions of other American 19-year-olds.
Strip away the money (5 years, $9.9 million), the talent and a future lined with super models and stolen bases, and what’s left?
A grimy, naive, expressive, poor and probably drunk college freshman. Or perhaps that’s an autobiography being emphasized by the author.
Harper, like his pitching phenom teammate Stephen Strasburg figures to remain a very public persona in Washington D.C., provided he achieves the hype laid out in front of him. It’s a mammoth climb, one obviously mimicked by another sport’s “Chosen One,” LeBron James. But even as James destroys records carrying a frame meant for a linebacker and a set of basketball tools James Naismith couldn’t have imagined, people still find flaws. In LeBron’s case, it’s the disappearing act late in games and the lack of NBA jewelry on his fingers.
Poking, prodding and bringing down these athletic idols is what we do.
Harper is 19 and a source of baseball vitriol that doesn’t shock, sadden or surprise me. Because whether his skills were inventing social networks or writing the next American classic, we’d still push until something — anything negative gave us a reason to craft a different narrative around such prodigious talent.
And the fact of the matter is that he’ll never sit in an Economics class and wonder why the hangover won’t go away and if he happened to overdraft again. Harper won’t do those things because men around baseball have pegged him as a player on his way to becoming one of the best in the world at his job.
Once you’ve reached that threshold, it’s no longer about age.
Age is a number. Talent is a gift.
Folks spend lifetimes trying to justify the former. Not everybody is blessed with the latter.