Prized Rookie Bryce Harper Already a Big Hit For The Washington Nationals
Tyler Kepner of the New York Times on the successful debut of Nationals rookie Bryce Harper:
“Once it was Willie Mays playing stickball in Harlem. Now we have Bryce Harper playing softball by the Washington Monument.
It happened on Monday, the day before Harper’s home debut for the Washington Nationals, a mostly uneventful 5-1 loss to Arizona. Steven Marcus, a gift-planning officer for the World Wildlife Fund, was pitching at a field on the National Mall when a 19-year-old left-hander in jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt stepped to the plate.
“I said, ‘This guy looks vaguely familiar,’ with his funny haircut and all,” said Marcus, 34. “My first baseman said: ‘You might want to back up. That’s Bryce Harper.’ When he was taking that big swing, I was terrified. If he connected and that came right back at me, I’d be in a little bit of trouble.”
Harper whiffed on Marcus’s first pitch before lifting a fly ball to right. By the time Harper met reporters at Nationals Park on Tuesday, his first — very unofficial — at-bat in Washington was growing into legend.
“Just walking around a little bit, checking out all the stuff, hadn’t seen the Lincoln Memorial before,” Harper said. “I was just walking through and they asked me if I wanted to take a few hacks. I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t know about that.’ They were like, ‘Come on.’ So I hung out over there a little bit and talked to the fans.”
Harper joked — accurately, by Marcus’s account — that the softball players probably recognized him by his tattoos and “rat tail” haircut. Years from now, he might regret the haircut, which is short on the sides, long up the middle and scruffy on the neck. For now it is part of the packaging for a career that should be anything but ordinary.
Harper made his debut on Saturday at Dodger Stadium, where Vin Scully, the Hall of Fame broadcaster, was in the booth. Scully told viewers that Harper wears No. 34 because the digits equal 7, Mickey Mantle’s number. By the end of the weekend, Scully was raving.
“Is that kid something?” Scully said. “Everything he’s done has been extremely impressive.”
Harper doubled off the center-field wall for his first hit on Saturday. He made a perfect throw from left field to the plate, and drove in a tiebreaking run in the ninth. He crashed into the wall for a catch on Sunday and collected another hit.
The Nationals lost both games, and have struggled for runs while losing five in a row. But Harper seems like a player with enough skills to do something exciting every day. On Tuesday, he made a dazzling throw that nearly caught a runner at the plate. At the plate he is 2 for 9, but before his arrival, Washington left fielders had hit .097 this season.”