Harper is still just a kid
Bryce Harper still has to take out the trash at home.
Projected to be the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball Draft two days after the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series ends, Harper just wants to be a kid.
He’s the youngest of 260 kids who will be competing for the NJCAA Division I baseball championship starting this morning at Suplizio Field.
He’s probably the best of the 260, and in a few week’s time, he’ll undoubtedly be the highest paid of the bunch.
He’s only 17, and should be getting ready for his senior year in high school. Instead, he just finished his freshman year at second-ranked College of Southern Nevada.
“I’m still thinking about the prom. I’m still thinking about girls and all that stuff,” Harper told a crowd of media Friday afternoon at Suplizio Field. “That’s high school. I still hang out with my buddies and have a good time on the weekend and play Wiffle ball in the street, go snowboarding, go to the beach. I’m still a kid.”
Harper, who started out the press conference by staring straight ahead — like a normal kid when faced with a row of television cameras, newspaper photographers and reporters — finally grinned, reached up and scratched his head, knocking his baseball cap cockeyed.
“I guess I’m a kid living a dream, ‘cuz that’s what I’m doing right now,” he said, smiling and laughing. “I’m having a lot of fun doing it. It’s been a lot of fun. I wouldn’t take anything back, nothing. I still went to homecoming and Sadies (Hawkins dance).”
The kid from Las Vegas has been living in a fishbowl since last June, when he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Soon after that, he left school two years early, got his GED and enrolled in junior college.
It could be the fast track to the big leagues, because he’s eligible to be drafted after his freshman year in junior college.
Harper, his father, Ron, and coach, Tim Chambers, declined to talk about the upcoming draft during the press conference. The Washington Nationals are expected to select him first, giving them a battery of No. 1s.
The Nationals took pitcher Stephen Strasburg a year ago, and he’s already moved up to Class AAA ball.
The Nats could soon pair him with Harper, a strapping young catcher who, by all accounts, hits like one of his favorite players of all time, Mickey Mantle.
Despite being in that fishbowl, Harper has also been in a bit of a bubble. After the Sports Illustrated article and leaving high school, every local and national publication and television network wanted 10 minutes with him.
There were so many, the family said no to all of them. They said no to a press conference before the JUCO World Series. With the amount of national media that has pulled into Grand Junction this weekend, however, they decided a press conference might allow this kid to just be a kid and try to help his team win a national championship.
Grand Junction has seen the likes of Kirby Puckett, Curt Schilling, Frank Rodriguez and Craig McMurtry, all of whom became big-league players.
None generated the buzz this kid has before he’s even taken a swing at Suplizio Field.
Then again, none of those guys were on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16. They didn’t have Internet blogs being written about them.
They didn’t have a Wikipedia entry.
The hype isn’t just with the media and the fans.
“I told our guys they’re gonna be rock stars, he’s gonna be a mega rock star,” Chattanooga (Tenn.) Community College coach Greg Dennis said. Dennis played at Suplizio, winning a national title in 1983 with McLennan (Texas) Community College.
“I might even shimmy up by him and get a quick photo. I was there when Kirby was there and I played against (Roger) Clemens. He’s a whole different animal.”
So far, Harper has been allowed to be just another player in the tournament, which Chambers asked the media to allow him to be this week.
He attended the kids’ clinic Thursday afternoon, helping youngsters with their pitching mechanics as they were clocked on the tournament radar gun.
The majority of those little ballplayers had no idea “the LeBron of baseball” was giving them pitching tips.
“I love doing that, going out there and helping little kids,” Harper said. “Anytime I can go out and help them, I love doing it. It was just a blast being out there; I love being with all those little kids. It’s just a blast.”
It’s a blast because he’s a kid.
A kid who is expected to help with the yard work, make his bed, and yes, take out the trash.
And oh, yeah, be the next face of the national pastime.