Bryce Harper: 'I'm trying to make this club'

Adam Kilgore
Copyright 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 4:11 PM

Today, during the Nationals' first spring training workout, Jayson Werth approached Bryce Harper in the outfield and asked him, "You gonna make the team or what?" The easy answer, and the actual answer, is no. Harper is just 18, and the Nationals have already begun making arrangements for his opening games to be played with low-Class A Hagerstown. That's where Harper will start the first full year of his professional career, period. But that's not how Harper sees it. Before he enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada last year, nobody had left high school after their sophomore year to play at junior college. And so, he doesn't see why he can't make the Nationals. "I'm trying to make this club," Harper said. "I'm going to come out here every day and make their choice hard. If it doesn't happen, then it's going to be great being up here and learning from these guys. "Why can't it be realistic? Why can't I come in here and think that I can make this team? I've exceeded expectations my whole life. Everybody said I couldn't do it last year at CSN. I know this is a totally different level. Totally different people. But I'm going to make their decision hard. I'm going to come out here every day and play like I can. Until they send me to minor league camp, I'm going to try to make it hard." During the workout, Harper drilled two home runs to left field in normal batting practices, his first oppo boppos of the spring. Harper faced two different pitchers in live batting practice, Shairon Martis and Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick, who Harper had actually faced in the Arizona Fall League, when Broderick was still in the Cardinals' organization. Harper swung and missed at two pitches, fouled off several balls, and poked a few line drives into the outfield. Nothing about his performance, good or bad, stood out. When Harper finished facing Broderick, he walked out of the batting cage and knelt next to Ivan Rodriguez, who made his major league debut June 20, 1991, 484 days before Harper was born. Harper played catcher growing up, and he idolized Rodriguez. "Pudge and I, we were talking," Harper said. "He said, 'Just do what you've been doing your whole life. It's a simple game. Go out there and play the way you can.' "I grew up loving Pudge. I absolutely loved Pudge when I was younger. We were sitting there chit-chatting a little big. I don't really get star-struck as much as some other kids would. But sitting there with Pudge, it was really cool. I was talking to him, I go, 'I met you, so I'm done. I can go home now.' " After the workout, Harper avoided the crush of fans who bombarded him yesterday with an intricate plan devised by the Nationals. Harper jumped on the back of golf cart - which he almost fell off when it began whisking him away - and was driven to a white van by the minor-league facility. Once in the van, Harper was taken back to Space Coast Stadium, where he could lift weights and take part in a team meeting. For any other 18-year-old, it may have seemed like a bit much. For Harper, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, it was not big thing. "I've got hauled away in a golf cart before," he said. "So it's not that tough." Harper may have only made one mistake all day. When asked what he was looking forward to most, he said he wanted to play the Yankees. "I love the Yankees," he explained. "I've always loved the Yankees since I was younger. They have all the studs. They have a lot studs out there. You just want to see how everybody goes about their business. I want to see Pujols and how he swings it in BP, how he warms up. Jeter, how he warms up. There's a lot of veteran guys that you can learn from. There's a lot of veteran guys that I can learn from here. You know, Zimmerman, he's a great guy, and he's hilarious also." Harper was asked if, since he, you know, plays for the Nationals, he would have to break that habit of loving them. "Yeah, I want to beat the Yankees," Harper said. "That's for sure. If I could be the Yankee breaker, be the guy who breaks that streak of them winning, that would be great."

© 2011 The Washington Post Company