One last thing before we shut down the Journal for the night. The other day, I asked Ryan Zimmerman a simple question, something along the lines of “So, what do you think about Bryce Harper this spring?” Zimmerman responded with a response that was long, nuanced, thoughtful and, in my opinion, just about pitch-perfect. For someone with his perspective, it was fascinating.
I used part of his answer for a story about Harper in Tuesday’s paper. Including the whole thing was impossible for space reasons, so I wanted to put Zimmerman’s whole, unabridged answer here. It’s long, but I think you’ll enjoy it:
“I think Bryce is a very talented kid. Obviously, he’s a great baseball player. I think everyone recognizes that. I think he’s very misunderstood as a person. I would say part of that is his fault [chuckles] and part of that is – I don’t want to say the media’s fault, because the media is only doing their job. But when you’re as highly touted as he has been since he was 12 years old, no kid should be put through that at 12 years old. I know that’s how our society is now. They’re looking for the next LeBron James or the next A-Rod. People forget he’s 19 years old. He should be a freshman or a sophomore in college. What I always tell people is, just imagine yourself when you were 19 years old and what you were doing: probably getting black-out drunk at a frat party and then waking up the next day and having no responsibilities.* Compare that to what he goes through every day as a 19-year-old. Everyone is going to have some troubles dealing with it.
“I think Bryce is very confident, and I think that’s important in baseball. He lets some of that shine sometimes, maybe a little bit too much. Well, maybe not too much, because everyone is their own player. It kind of goes back to how we’re expected to act as professional baseball players, and I think he’ll learn. He’s really a good guy. He means no harm. He honestly just wants to play baseball, and he wants to be good, and he wants to help us win. If that means him tweeting fan questions every day and he hits .300, as long as he’s not doing anything malicious or anything stupid. …
“Unfortunately, that is the new age of professional sports, I guess. I don’t have a Twitter. I don’t do Facebook stuff. But I’m 27 and he’s 19. He was born in the ’90s, and I was not born in the ’90s. That’s how it is now. It’s appealing to the fans. Fans will get to know him better than they’ve known other players in the past. The guys that I was brought up with, we were always taught to be kind of inclusive, not let people in. To a certain point, I like that. When I’m away from the field, I want to go to a restaurant, and I don’t want to Tweet and have people go to the restaurant. I don’t want everyone to know where I’m at. But it’s a different age. If that’s what makes him the player that he is, it comes all in a package. It’s kind of our job to help him along with that process, because to be 19 and have the pressure that he has, to be kind of thrown into the big leagues, things like that, he’s going to need some help. I think if we neglect him, it’s just as much our fault as it is his.
“When you’re 19, you’re not supposed to be mature. He’s got a lot to learn. He’s got a lot to go through. In our business, the only way that you learn and get more professional is to make mistakes and go through mistakes that we’ve already been through. I think people forget that. When you were or when you first came up, you did stuff that was probably stupid. You look back on it and you’re like, Why would I ever do that? You didn’t know. Unfortunately for him, every decision that he makes or everything that he does that’s controversial, it’s the lead in “SportsCenter.” For us, if it was controversial, people laughed at us and we went on in Single A. He’s on a tough stage to learn. You shouldn’t have to learn how to do that on a stage. But he’s good enough to be put on that stage, and it’s our job to help him with that.”
*How’d he know?