In Brandon Harper’s office in Broomfield, Colo., there’s a Washington Nationals jersey hanging from the wall. Someone walked into the room one day, noticed the jersey and the name “Harper” emblazoned on the back and asked: “Is that Bryce Harper?”
This wasn’t the first time Brandon Harper has fielded such a question.
“No, it’s actually me,” he responded.
Here’s the reason for the confusion: Brandon Harper played for the Nationals. And that indeed is his jersey hanging on the wall. But he played in 2006 and is not related to the rising star on the Nationals roster now.
There are two Harpers in the Nationals organization now: Bryce, 19, and his older brother, Bryan, 22, a pitcher for rookie ball Auburn. But before either were playing in the Nationals organization, there was Brandon Harper.
He played in 18 games, starting in 13 of them, during the 2006 season, his only one in the major leagues. He was a backup catcher, called up in early August of that year to play behind Brian Schneider and Robert Fick.
In Harper’s major league debut on Aug. 9, 2006 at RFK Stadium, he caught Ramon Ortiz. He played seven innings and smacked a line drive double to right field off Florida Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis in his first major league at-bat. In all that season, he hit .293 (12 for 41) with two home runs and six RBI.
Harper played with Ryan Zimmerman, the longest-serving Nationals player. He remembers Ian Desmond from his first spring training and crossed paths with Roger Bernadina in 2006. He caught John Lannan in Class AAA in 2007. Current Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein and pitching coach Steve McCatty held the same positions at then-Class AAA New Orleans when Harper was there.
Harper’s name is etched in team annals for one special feat: the first two home runs of his career came in the same game. He did so on Aug. 20 in Philadelphia. His accomplishment resurfaced this season when Tyler Moore brought Harper’s name out of the record books this season when he became the third to accomplish the feat on June 13. Bernadina also did it on May 12, 2010. (Oddly enough, however, then-Manager Frank Robinson pulled Harper that day before his fourth at-bat for Schneider).
“It was awesome experience,” Harper said of his two months in the big leagues.
But after the season ended, Harper knew he was nearing the end. The New Mexico native signed with the Nationals in 2006 as a 30-year-old. The Florida (now Miami) Marlins drafted him in the fourth round of the 1997 draft out of Dallas Baptist University, but it took him nine years to appear in a major league game because of a swath of injuries that included a shoulder surgery, a sports hernia, a broken hand and torn ligaments. In 11 seasons of professional baseball, Harper estimates being sidelined for a total of three.
After his 2006 season, he was offered a contract but spent the entire season at Class AAA Columbus. He hit .185 in 84 games and knew he had reached the end.
Harper decided to complete what was left of undergraduate degree in Denver, his wife’s hometown. He then started working as a financial advisor at Edward Jones in Broomfield, Colo., just outside of Denver.
He has followed the Nationals since, catching highlights when he can and reading the team’s website often, excited by their current success. He caught Bryce Harper’s story on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2009 but didn’t start paying much attention to him until it was clear he was headed to the Nationals.
“He plays hard,” Brandon Harper said of Bryce. “Obviously very talented, still young and learning. He plays the game the right way.”
Harper watches Bryce from afar, never having met him They are eerily similar in some ways. Brandon Harper was a strapping 6-foot-4 catcher. Bryce Harper is 6-3 and was a highly-touted catcher as a prospect. Both played for the Nats and have the same last name.
But there’s one final ironic twist to this story. Harper is one of four children in his family. He has a younger brother, nine years old. His name? Bryce.
“My parents wanted a B name and that was one that they liked,” he said.