Only once did that casual bravado show up. Usually, he’s polite. He turned away from a repeat questioner, so he could answer a quieter reporter’s question: “Let me talk to her,” he said. He’s quick to point out his own failures: “I’m pretty terrible at all-star games,” he said, then named three in which, he says, he went 0 for 15 with 12 strikeouts. “I don’t know if they want to pinch-hit me in the eighth or ninth.”
Then he gets a question about the Scottsdale Scorpions of last year’s Arizona Fall League, a team with Trout, Harper and Middlebrooks. “We were three best friends, we always went out to dinner,” said Harper.
“One day in Scottsdale we’re two runs down going into the bottom of the ninth,” said Harper. “Brandon Crawford [now the Giants shortstop] said, ‘What do you think is going to happen?’ I said, ‘We’re going to get two guys on. I’m going to drop a bomb, walk off and own this place.’ ”
Crawford and Trout doubted. “‘I promise I’m going to hit a jack,’ ” repeated Harper. “We get two guys on, I’m up, 3-2 change-up, [home run to] right center. We run back into the clubhouse.”
How can a 19-year-old seem so at ease as the third teenage all-star in baseball history, along with Bob Feller and Dwight Gooden? In a way, it’s almost too simple. Like that moment when he tells his buddies that he’s going to “drop a bomb, walk off and own this place,” Harper has always expected this day to come, worked for it and now loves every moment of it.
Usually, Harper is driven. Here, he truly seems to be on a dream holiday with his family, no pressure to help the Nationals win in a pennant race and the likelihood that he’ll get one low-pressure pinch-hit at bat. Maybe he really is going to get four days “off” after all — mentally, at least.
With that delicious prospect in view, he even lets himself sound his age. “I just want to hang out and joke with the guys,” he says. “And get all the free stuff I can.”
For previous columns by Thomas Boswell, visit washingtonpost.com/boswell.