After Bryce Harper singled in the fifth inning, which strangely broke his bat on the backswing, he stood at first base, exchanging smiles and a brief conversation with White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko. Because of interleague play, players on opposing teams who normally never cross paths get a chance to meet and talk.
From afar, Konerko, a 17-year major league veteran, six-time all-star and known as one of the most professional players in baseball, has watched some of Harper’s rise and been impressed. Following Wednesday’s game, Konerko, 37, offered some interesting thoughts on Harper, including his hope that the 20-year-old budding superstar continues to respect the sport and serve as an ambassador on and off the field.
“He’s obviously super talented,” Konerko said. “He’s hitting three-hole on a team that looks like it could be in the World Series. It’s pretty impressive. Plays the game hard, plays the game right. Other than these two games, I haven’t really seen him much because we’re in the American League. Obviously there’s a lot of comparisons to [Mike] Trout. We’ve seen him a little bit. He’s kinda the same thing.
“They’re so talented, all you can hope is that there’s obviously a lot of responsibility that comes along with that because you’re so talented and so good at a young age that hopefully they do good by it. The early returns are that they are. It’s not only that they’re really great players but they’re going to be great people in the game. That’s the big thing because those guys are pretty special guys.”
Konerko found it amusing that he was still in the high school when Harper was born, amazed at how advanced Harper is despite his age. But in Konerko’s mind, what makes a superstar is a player’s attitude towards the game, how he treats others, helps his teammates and carries himself like a leader.
“When I was 20 years old, I was in Double A and had no idea,” Konerko said. “I could hit a fastball if it was right there. But I had no idea. If I were to face big league pitching at that moment, it would have been horrific. I played a full year of Triple A the next year and won the MVP and faced big league pitching after that and it was horrific. To do what he’s doing, to be that far advanced, he’s just way ahead of the game. And you combine that with the talent. He can run. He can do it all.
“The biggest thing is his teammates speak well of him and he plays the game well, hard and right. That’s going to be it. He’s going have all the numbers and stuff. It’s always going to come down to being like Derek Jeter. To me, that’s the No. 1 guy. My time playing the game, you can talk about the superstars and all that but it always comes back to Derek Jeter. That’s the guy you want to be like. That’s the like the No. 1, winner, plays the game right, the whole nine yards. At the end of the day, hopefully he’s got, and I think he does, not just to be great but to make his teammates better and all the kinda stuff. That’s the stuff to get to that kinda level.”