“Everything I need, they’re always there for me,” Harper said. “I’m so appreciative towards them. I feel bad sometimes. Sometimes, they do a little too much, running errands for me and whatnot. But they want me to be focused and have fun and not worry about little things around me. I think that’s really huge.”
Harper’s entire family visited him in Denver this week when the Nationals played the Colorado Rockies. His father drove the 11 hours from Las Vegas to Denver so Harper could see the puppy his family gave him for Christmas, which Harper had not seen since February. Harper named the puppy Swag.
“We’re like family”
For Harper, the demands of a major league ballplayer preclude a typical social life of a 19-year-old.
He sometimes hangs out with other Nationals players, often second baseman Danny Espinosa, who’s 25. Many of his older teammates have families, and so he does not want to bother them on off days at home. He spent several nights over the past month at home watching the College World Series or a movie on TV.
On the road, he stays tight with teammates. One night, on a walk to the hotel from Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, Zimmerman teased him when he figured out Harper was 8 years old when first baseman Adam LaRoche got married.
“You’ve got a bunch of players around him who love him as a teammate and protect him and don’t let anybody mess with him, except for them,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “It’s like your brother. You can mess with your brother as much as you want. Don’t let somebody from the outside mess with him.”
There is one unavoidable divide between Harper and his teammates. On the road, if a large group visits an establishment with a 21-year age limit because of the drinking age, Harper cannot join them.
“From what I know, he’s got his close circle,” Ron Harper said. “It’s hard. He’s the youngest kid on the team. He can’t go out. Really, his circle is him.”
Recently, the Harpers have been taking Swag to dog training classes. They want Swag to learn how to stay inside for long enough to feel comfortable shipping him East to live with their son. “So he’ll have a companion,” Ron Harper said.
Teammates will look out for him. When he cannot enter a bar, Harper said, a few teammates, often LaRoche or outfielder Rick Ankiel, will break off with him and find a restaurant that does not require identification to enter.