Harper takes his hacks in D.C.
Friday, August 27, 2010
On Thursday morning, before he scalded a ball into the third deck at Nationals Park and before his grand introduction to Washington, Bryce Harper introduced himself to the city where the Washington Nationals believe he will become a star, their "cornerstone."
Harper went for a jog, but in the style one might expect only of a carefree 17-year-old who smears eye black on his face like war paint and wears a jet-black suit with a hot-pink tie to his first professional news conference.
As part of his morning run, Harper climbed shirtless up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, a headband wrapped around his forehead, just below the spiky faux-hawk. He pumped his arms like Rocky. When he returned to his hotel room, he gave his father a report.
"He said, 'Everybody was looking at me like I was crazy,' " Ron Harper said later. "I said, 'Well, Bryce . . .' "
In his first trip to Washington and first day spent with the Nationals, Harper made clear both why the Nationals selected him first overall and his nonchalant comfort with the attention heaped upon him for it. In the afternoon, he clobbered 12 home runs during batting practice, one in the top deck, where only bombs by Adam Dunn have ventured, and several into the bullpen in left center field. The first word Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein said when asked about the display: "Wow."
"It felt like home," Harper said. "I'm like a little kid in a candy store."
In the evening, Harper sat at a dais between General Manager Mike Rizzo - the man who called him "a cornerstone of the organization on and off the field" - and agent Scott Boras, his representative. MASN made it the centerpiece of its pregame show, replete with an emcee.
Ryan Zimmerman - "the face of the franchise," Rizzo said - entered the room for a moment to cover Harper's shoulders with a No. 34 Nationals uniform. "He hands out the jerseys," Rizzo said.
"It's going in my next contract," Zimmerman said.
Harper slapped on a red hat with a white curly "W" and sat before a room full of reporters, his family and members of the Nationals ownership group. Quickly, Harper introduced a new phrase to the franchise's lexicon. He explained that during batting practice earlier he had hit several "oppo boppos" - opposite field home runs.
In the three months since Harper played his last junior college game (from which he was ejected), he took batting practice on his own and lifted weights with the Las Vegas High School football team. Harper, a self-described "baseball rat" who constantly traveled to tournaments as a kid, had never gone so long without playing a baseball game. "It was a horrible break," he said.