The future has always come fast for Bryce Harper. It is central to his remarkable story: the leaving high school early, the half a year at junior college, the fast-forward through the Nationals’ farm system, the April promotion to the major leagues — always a step ahead.
And so, drenched in all manner of liquid, at the high point of his tall-tale rookie season – “the best experience I’ve ever been a part of,” he said – Harper peeked forward. The celebration he was so essential to had barely started, and already he expected more National League East titles to come.
“I want 20,” Harper said. “Let me tell you that right now. I want 20. Maybe that’s not going to happen. But right, now being able to enjoy this with everybody, champagne and apple cider, it’s unbelievable.”
Yup, apple cider. As the Nationals guzzled Korbel and Miller Lite, Harper shared a corner of the raucous clubhouse Monday night with first baseman Adam LaRoche’s 9-year-old son, Drake. They eschewed bubbly for the sweet – and soft – stuff.
“I was drinking that,” Harper said. “Me and Drake were pouring that on top of each other.”
It takes a moment like that to remind us that Harper is 19. He has stolen home, conquered slumps, terrified pitchers, gunned down runners, swung the fastest bat in the league and generally menaced the National League.
It takes another moment to remember he started this season at Class AAA Syracuse. He really did, right? “Was I there for spring training?” Harper asked. Not for spring, no, but almost all of April.
At that point the Nationals ostensibly needed a left-handed bat to reinforce a lineup beset by injuries. Really, they knew they needed to amend the situation. They were in first place, and one of their best players was riding buses through the International League.
“I didn’t want to come here and screw things up,” Harper said. “We were already in first place. I just wanted to come in here, play my game.”
Publicly, General Manager Mike Rizzo said Harper’s ascension to the majors could be a temporary solution if Harper struggled. The truth can be told. He knew better. Harper’s blend of skills, age 19 or not, could not fail.
“We knew we had something special on our hands with Bryce,” Rizzo said. “We kind of saw this guy being a big part of this team. I’ve been scouting a long time, and it’s not so tough to say he’s different than the rest of us.”
Different enough to make decisions on the basepaths no other major leaguers would dare. Harper provided the most electric moment of the actual game Monday night.
Leading off the sixth inning, Harper crushed a 1-0, 88-mph sinker over Domonic Brown’s head in center field, a rocker that one-hopped the fence as Harper dashed into second. The next hitter, Ryan Zimmerman, popped up to shallow right field, an unremarkable play had any baserunner other Harper occupied second base.
As Chase Utley drifted into the grass, Harper crouched at second base, one eye over his right shoulder. When the ball went over Utley’s shoulder and into his glove, Harper bolted. Utley spun and lobbed a two-hop throw to third base. Harper slid over the ball as he dove headlong into the bag.
Harper wouldn’t score, and the Nationals would settle for celebrating a shutout. Harper had never done that before.
“There’s a first for everything,” Harper said. “There’s another first. This is unbelievable. I want to go to Disneyland.”