For Bryce Harper, it has been a steady climb to elite, beginning as a child and continuing as a 16-year-old, when he bailed from his high school career to start playing at the collegiate level. For years we were told how good he was going to be, and at 23 years old, he’s playing like he’s the best in the league. He has dealt with his fair share of critics, but considering the big picture, he’s doin’ alright for a kid earning millions. His highlight reel is impressive, but these are his best moments…so far.
7. Drafted by the Nationals
The Washington Nationals were in the process of building a franchise, and when they scored future ace Stephen Strasburg, the light at the end of the tunnel got a lot brighter for Nationals fans. When the struggling franchise looked as if they might score baseball’s “future,” in Bryce Harper, there was legitimate reason to celebrate. Of course, hindsight being what it is, putting such pressure on such young talent was foolish, but it didn’t make it any less exciting. Harper has become the face of the Washington Nationals franchise, and is quickly becoming the face of Major League Baseball. His first few seasons have been marred with physical tweaks and more significant injuries, but credit to Bryce for pushing his limits. It has been said that once he felt comfortable in the league, he’d take it over. He and Strasburg seem to be firing on all cylinders so far in 2016!
6. First Home Run
It’s hard to believe it was nearly four years ago that Bryce Harper hammered his first home run in the bigs. He was a whopping 19 years old, and the home run came on May 14, 2012. If you think of yourself one year beyond your high school prom, making your first home run trot in a Major League ballpark, it’s rather mind-boggling. This particular home run wasn’t one of the rinky dink variety. Bryce hammered the ball to straight away center, and then began his rapid progression around the bases, with his head down and no excessive celebration. He does boast a sweet lefty swing, and generates tremendous power from the hips. Regarding the technical aspects of hitting, his hands are some of the best in the game. After this blast, the fans wouldn’t sit until he offered a curtain call.
5. 100th Home Run in Grand Fashion
Let’s take you back. Way back to April 14th of this year. Bryce Harper had been the subject of chatter for the week because he was sitting on 99 home runs, and anxious to get #100. What better way to do that than to step to the plate with the bases juiced against divisional foe, the Atlanta Braves? Bryce wasted no time getting the fans at Nationals Park on their feet when he lifted a 1-0 count into the right field seats for a grand slam, and his 100th home run. The difference in this trot and his original: he had to go back and touch first base after his excitement led him to over stride. He maintained that he tapped the bag with his heel in a post game interview, but thought it better to be safe than sorry. It also happened to be his mom’s birthday.
4. Make Baseball Fun Again
Before the 2016 season got into full swing, Bryce Harper made headlines when he spoke about his goals for the season, and his goals for the entire sport of baseball. It’s a game that once was America’s pastime, something that’s quite evident when looking at footage and photos from games that occurred the 1930s-1960s. This pastime was an honored tradition, and the popularity of baseball continued to grow for the next four decades…then came the scandals: Pete Rose betting on baseball, some of the sluggers and marquee pitchers were on the juice, parents were taking the game more serious than kids at the youth level—they gave out participation trophies!?!? The game was no longer fun, or competitive. Bryce Harper has led the charge to “make baseball fun again,” and he has turned the sentiment into a side business.
3. His Blistering 2016 Pace
We’ve addressed his short MLB past, and some of the present, but let’s consider the immediate future: the 2016 season. Bryce is presently on pace to bust some records wide open in 2016. If Bryce stays healthy—and for sake of argument, let’s say that he does, and he plays 153 games (same as last season)—Bryce could win the triple crown. He’s on pace to hit 60-plus home runs, 150 RBIs, and who’s to say with batting average. At present he’s hitting .323, and teammate Daniel Murphy is reaping the benefits of Bryce Harper’s protection batting a scorching .394. As averages fluctuate into the season, it’ll be interesting to see where Bryce is able to max out. We’re imagining he’ll see fewer good pitches if he remains such a threat to opposing pitchers, but fingers crossed pitchers and catchers will continue to challenge him in 2016.
2. The Dugout Scuffle With Papelbon
Rewinding to the 2015 season, there was a particular “incident” in the Washington Nationals dugout that escalated rather quickly. First, a little setup. 2015 was a colossal disappointment to everyone in the Nationals organization, none more so than the guys in the dugout. They expected big things, and instead finished on the outside of the playoff race with a rash of injured players and frustration growing throughout the clubhouse. On one particular afternoon, late in the season, Bryce Harper flied out to left field and jogged to first base as the fielder scored the putout. As he walked back to the dugout, relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon took issue—told Bryce to run it out. Bryce replied, “Are you f—ing kidding me?” In a blink, Papelbon attacked, and the two were being separated by teammates. The bros eventually made it right. Both remain on the team.
1. He Loves Clowns
Hands down, the greatest moment of Bryce Harper’s short, but memorable career came off the field. When you’re a young buck and you’re making lots of money, you can expect to answer some pretty odd questions from members of the news media. During one particular post-game interview (after playing a game in Toronto), a reporter asked Bryce if he had a favorite Canadian beer, and if he’d be celebrating his great game, because he was 19 and of legal drinking age in the country. Bryce got a chuckle out of the question initially, but his media handler explained that the question wasn’t appropriate. Bryce gave the reporter some serious side-eye, then suggested he wouldn’t answer it. He followed with five words that we are certain will be joked about at his future Hall of Fame induction: “That’s a clown question, bro.”