After tonight I will have watched Bryce Harper play in six different stadiums, but Nats Park will be the first major league park, and there is a near certainty that it won’t be the last. It is yet unknown if this will be the moment or the time that Harper plays well enough to stay in the majors. Ryan Zimmerman isn’t expected to stay on the DL long, but with both Tyler Moore up and Xavier Nady struggling it is unlikely Harper would be the first sent down, and even if he does struggle a player of his talents has the right to work out of it.
There is one thing that stands out about Bryce Harper, he is different. It is often said of players who hit the ball as hard as Harper that the ball makes a different sound of their bats, but the most impressive thing about Harper’s bat speed is how few times a ball gets by him. He has struck around 20% in every stop along the way in the minors, but Harper knows the strike zone better than minor league umpires. Harper’s best tool isn’t his power or ability to hit for a high average. It is his batting eye and patience.
This past Sunday against the Dodgers Harper came to the plate and did something few Nationals had done all day. He laid off of pitches out of the zone. Harper admitted after the game that he wanted to have hit the game tying homer, but if the pitcher wasn’t going to give him a pitch he could drive he simply wouldn’t swing. It is that type of approach that might be the reason why Harper can stick in the majors even at the age of 19.
Last night I was reminded of what it is like to watch a special player. Alex Ovechkin was once one of the most exciting players to watch in the sport of hockey, but he was also one of the most reckless. Ovechkin has since tempered his nature and hasn’t looked like the same player since. Letting Ovi be Ovi is no longer in the cards for the Capitals as their first priority in any coach is that he is able to control Ovechkin, but there are still flashes that at times shine through. With the game on the line in the 3rd period last night Ovechkin had the puck come to him off the draw and quickly rifled it into the goal for the game winner.
Whenever a player like Alex Ovechkin is on the ice there is a chance that something special can happen. Bryce Harper is the same type of player. Right down to the cocky attitude. Harper made a play in CF on Sunday where he ran along the wall and snagged what was a sure double while slamming into the wall. It is those types of plays that have lead to the Ranger playing Josh Hamilton in center less and less, but wherever you put him he still plays the game hard and every now in then comes up injured.
Bryce Harper is going to play the game of baseball in what might appear to be a reckless manner. He is going to go all out and give up his body to make plays. The best thing for the Nationals is to let Harper be Harper. Let his attitude and arrogance come through as he plays the game with all the determination and fire of a John McGraw. Let him be booed and hated by the fans on the road. If they hate him it means the fans in Washington will love him. He will say and do things that upset opposing fans, opposing players, and at times the media, but do not temper Bryce Harper.
It is typical to welcome a rookie to the show, but perhaps Harper should be the one welcoming us. Going out to the ballpark will now be a little more fun. Ryan Zimmerman is an exciting player to watch with the great defensive plays and occasional walk-off homers, but Harper is the type of player who can take over a game. Whenever a player of his talent is on the field there is a chance to see something special. Whether his time has come early at 19 or is still a year or two away has yet to be seen, but Bryce Harper is now in the major leagues and the best thing we fans can do is sit back, strap in, and enjoy the ride.