“The best way I can put it,” Cardozo says, “is that he has stage presence.”
This love, for now, is mostly a one-way street. Harper simply doesn’t have enough experience with Washington to love it back. He is dutifully loyal to the Nationals but admits to a lifelong devotion to the Yankees. And, anyway, his love is bigger than any one team — and he speaks about it as only a moonstruck teenager can.
“I love the game of baseball,” he says in the living room of the Harper house. “I’m getting chills right now about it. I absolutely love the game of baseball. If you took it away from me, I’d die tomorrow. Seriously. I’d want to kill myself. I absolutely love the game of baseball.”
He is ruggedly handsome (he stands 6-foot-3, 220 pounds), clean-cut (a devout Mormon, he says he has never had a drink or a cigarette, and never gambles despite having spent his entire life in Sin City) and is comfortable with the notion of fame without being consumed by it. He is also cognizant of the scrutiny he will be under as baseball’s latest bonus-baby prodigy.
When he left for Viera, Fla., to join his Nationals teammates for spring training, he did not bring his brand-new Mercedes, the one indulgence he allowed himself after signing his Nationals contract, but the black Toyota truck with 130,000 miles on it.
“That’s my work truck,” Harper says. “I want everyone to know I’m there for work.”
He deftly straddles the line between childhood and adulthood, just as an 18-year-old should.
He loves his dog and his mama, and says his dad is his best friend. He sleeps with his bats. He has a thing for female soccer players. At home, he’s prone to invading the kitchen at 1 a.m. and helping himself to a bowl of Fruity Pebbles — the empty bowls frequently found in his bedroom days later. A month before he was to report to his first professional spring training, he attended a high school Sadie Hawkins dance with his girlfriend — a soccer player, of course.
This winter, three times a week, he rose at 4 a.m., drove half an hour across town and reported to a 5:15 a.m. workout with San Francisco Giants outfielder Aaron Rowand, a 33-year-old former all-star. After a late-morning nap, Harper often dropped by his old high school team’s practice, hoping to get in a few cuts in the batting cage. Though he looks like a man among boys in that venue, he is with his peer group: He would be a high school senior right now had he not left early.