Bryce Harper’s blown kiss at a Greensboro Grasshoppers pitcher during his home run trot last night has reverberated around baseball, earning him recognition as baseball’s new villain and causing some to speculate his promotion to the next minor league will be stalled.
The Nationals, though, viewed Harper’s actions not as a defining moment, but as something to learn from. They are not going to discipline him – Harper will bat third and play the outfield tonight for Class A Hagerstown. And they will not use the incident as a reason to delay Harper’s ascension in their minor league system, Nationals director of player development Doug Harris said.
“It’s something that we’re going to handle internally,” Harris said. “For us, it’s a teaching moment. We’ve got our arms around this.”
Nationals officials used Harper’s kiss as an example not only to him, but also his teammates at Class A Hagerstown. “This is a teaching moment not only for Bryce, but for the rest of that ballclub,” Harris said. “This is not just about him.”
While Harper is the most high-profile player in the entire minor leagues, Harris views him as not that much different, in regard to maturity, from the rest of the league. He said every player at that level, to varying degrees, has to learn the challenges of playing everyday and life as a professional.
“This is part of the process,” Harris said. “This does not impact thought process, or our decision going forward. Bryce is a wonderful kid. His passion, energy and his competitiveness are among the best I’ve ever been around.”
I have a few thoughts on Harper’s kiss. First, Harper deals with the constant attention of opposing teams. Manager Brian Daubach said earlier this season that players pitch to Harper “like it’s the seventh game of the World Series,” and that Harper deals with frequent heckling.
“I see players rise their games when he comes to bat,” Harris said. “They take on a little more meaning.”
Harper has said he is not averse to returning fire when opponents talk smack to him. That’s the biggest reason why, I think, things like what happened last won’t be an issues as he moves up levels. In the majors, he’ll play against grown men who will not care enough to heckle Harper. They’ll view him as an equal and just play. His at-bats will cease to take on more meaning in the eyes of opponents. That, and any antics like last night be eliminated by policing in his own clubhouse.
Now, that doesn’t excuse what Harper did last night. He’s only 18, but he has to realize, fair or not, he has a constant target on his back and that when he blows kisses or admires home runs, it’s going to become an issue. No matter what the other did to him, he was wrong.
But he’s no villain. He’s a kid.