“Bryce Begins” — the collaboration between Jess Atkinson’s 3 Penny Films and MLB Productions, which debuts Tuesday night at 9 on ESPN — starts and ends at Nationals Park, on the opening day of the 2013 season, with Harper hitting home runs.
The hour-long film is filled with behind-the-scenes footage from big-league parks, and includes interviews with major league names like Cal Ripken, Ryan Zimmerman and Mike Trout.
But the parts you’ll remember — or at least, the parts I’ll remember — are the relatively private moments between Harper and his parents. Like their trip to the Las Vegas airport in February of 2012, as Bryce left home for his second season of pro ball.
“My mom worked unbelievably hard,” Harper says, over images of their goodbye embraces that day. “My dad worked so hard. It’s hard leaving everybody at times, but being able to fulfill the dream of playing in Major League Baseball, it’s pretty unbelievable. So…”
And then he stops, and apologizes, and wipes away tears.
Or the footage after his first big-league game at Dodger Stadium, when the press conference ends and he goes to greet his family.
“It was still kind of surreal,” his mom says, remembering that moment. “He’s not my baby anymore. He’s grown up. He looked like a man. I was just so proud of him.”
“Having them being able to be there and watch me play, we all took it in and really tried to enjoy the moment, live in that moment,” Harper says.
Or Harper talking about learning a work ethic from watching his father.
“I’ve always had the dream to play professional baseball, and it’s always good to have a family that wants you to follow your dreams,” he says. “There’s nothing that is gonna [cause] me to not play in the big leagues, because that’s where I want to be. I’m gonna work my everliving ass off to get there.”
Indeed, the film is about Harper and his parents as much as Harper and baseball or Harper and teammates or Harper and fame.
“What I saw was a grateful son,” said Atkinson, who worked on the project for two years. “He knows his parents sacrificed so much for him, and this is where there was that gap between perception and reality. He wanted to do all this, and his dad, the best he could, tried to make that happen for him. As parents, you always wonder if your kids realize what you sacrifice so they can chase their dreams. Bryce, to me, is a grateful son, and a very good one.”
There are memorable scenes of Harper in the minor leagues, and Harper surrounded by the press, and Harper showing up on the Mall to take a few hacks with a rec-league softball game. But the one-on-one interviews with the filmmakers are equally memorable.
“The honesty in his interviews, I think that’ll take people by surprise: how honest he is, how much he loves baseball, how much he loves his family, how much he wants to play the game right,” said David Gavant, the executive producer from MLB Productions.
“Many times I asked Bryce to take stock of where he is in life, to reflect on [the future],” Atkinson told me. “This is a kid who was 19; he’s looking to go out and conquer the world just like every 19-year old. And yet at the same time, Bryce was always patient, reflecting, thinking through that. That showed to me a maturity that I saw develop right before my eyes.”