Rob Miech will be JUCO banquet speaker

Bryce Harper’s story has been well-chronicled in recent years, but no writer has been closer to it than Rob Miech.

The Las Vegas sports writer’s book, The Last Natural, chronicles the everyday life of Harper and the 2010 College of Southern Nevada team and its run to the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series.

Miech will be the featured keynote speaker at the JUCO World Series pretournament banquet this year. Miech’s book was published in May 2012.

The JUCO banquet is May 24 at Two Rivers Convention Center. Tickets are $40 each and go on sale April 2 at the JUCO office in Home Loan & Investment Co., 205 N. Fourth St.

“I’ve been thinking about that (banquet),” Miech said. “It’s still in the process of playing out. I know I won’t be able to address every single player, but I hope to connect with a lot of players. I’d like to do an intro on how I got into this position. I hope to do a Q&A with a lot of the players. I hope they are intrigued enough and are open to it.”

Games in the JUCO World Series begin May 25 at Suplizio Field.

Miech spent the 2010 season with the Southern Nevada Coyotes in the dugout, locker room, team buses and motel rooms. The book details the journey of Harper in his only season in collegiate baseball.

Miech covered the Southern Nevada baseball program for the Las Vegas Sun starting in 2003 when the Coyotes won the national championship. He did a profile piece on Southern Nevada coach Tim Chambers during his stint covering the team, but Miech was laid off because of staff cutbacks in December 2009. Shortly after that, he approached Chambers with the idea of writing a book about Harper and the 2010 team.

“It was that feature that cemented the bond with Coach Chambers,” Miech said. “It funneled into this thought Chambers was so insistent this would be a unique season that nobody would do it again.

“I asked him, ‘Then shouldn’t every day be chronicled?’ He said, ‘You got it.’ “

The experience was extraordinary, Miech said.

“They were so cool to me,” he said. “They were accommodating and generous.”

Miech writes about how Harper interacted with his older teammates and how he handled the national attention as a teenager.

“He is a unique kid,” Miech said. “Being on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June 2009 at 16, if that doesn’t prep you, I don’t think anything will. He told me straight up for a young kid that may be a lot (of attention), but who wouldn’t want that? He struck me as professional. Most people couldn’t pull that off. He was very smart, street-wise. He is alone with (NBA player) Baron Davis in being smart and savvy, street-wise. You can’t be an actor and pull that off. You have that or you don’t.”

Harper was the Golden Spikes Award winner as the top amateur baseball player in 2010, then was the No. 1 selection in the Major League Baseball draft. He signed a $9.9 million contract with the Washington Nationals and quickly rose through the minors, winning National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2012.

Miech believes Harper handled it well.

“I think we saw last season what makes him tick,” Miech said. “I think his reputation preceded him, and I don’t think that was fair at all.

“When he blew that kiss to the pitcher, nobody sees and nobody knows what led to that. You only see the worst, the reaction. Hopefully in the book, you get some insight on how much he respects the game and his opponents. He went through a lot that season and for a majority of it handled it well. I think that reputation was not deserved.”

Miech hasn’t visited with Harper since that 2010 season, but he didn’t expect they would remain in contact, given the media attention Harper receives.

“I knew when we walked off that bus, I would not have contact with him,” Miech said. “Fortunately I knew Tim Chambers well. I think for so many reasons, it was important to document that season and what happened. It just hadn’t been done before.”

Miech has been a sports writer for 25 years, most of that time covering college basketball, including the 1994-95 UCLA national championship team. He covered more than 500 Major League Baseball games while living in Los Angeles and believes that prepared him for writing The Last Natural.

Miech has won several awards during his career, and his work has appeared in publications such as CBS SportsLine, MLB.com, The Washington Post, USA Today and the Las Vegas Sun.

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