The Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper finished second in baseball’s Home Run Derby Monday night in New York, behind Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics. Harper was hitting balls thrown by his father:
It was always him and his dad. That’s how Bryce Harper remembers it. He would wait for Ron Harper to come home from his shift as an ironworker, a 5-year-old bundle of energy pleading for a pitcher. Out they would head, either into the family garage or to one of the dusty Las Vegas diamonds near their home. “I’d just swing and try to hit the ball as hard as I could,” the son recalled.
One day when Bryce was 10, another of the batting sessions he never tired of had just ended. He turned to his father and told him if he ever made the Home Run Derby, he wanted him to pitch.
After Bryce popped up his last pitch of the first round, he met his dad in the field and hugged him. The final result seemed not to matter so much anymore, but both Harper men had come to win — “that’s my big thing,” Ron had said. They almost did.
Harper advanced to the final round of the Home Run Derby and, with eight homers, applied pressure on Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics. Cespedes responded, launching his ninth home run after only five of his 10 outs had expired. He flipped his bat before his homer had landed on the other side of a Chevy pickup beyond the center field fence.
“What a great competitor he is,” Harper said. “I can’t wait until I’m 23.”
Harper may not have won, but he outlasted Prince Fielder, Robinson Cano, Chris Davis and three other top sluggers. Like Cano, he got to hit pitches thrown by his dad.
“Growing up, you always see the guys hitting homers,” Harper said. “I always hit well off my dad. I’m so thankful and blessed he was able to do that. It was a special opportunity for me to do this. I had a blast.”
For most hitters, ideal batting-practice pitches are straight fastballs. Ron, though, strayed from that norm: He threw his son cutters, pitches that curled slightly toward the left-handed batter’s box. He had always thrown Bryce pitches on the outside half of the plate, mimicking the way opposing pitchers stayed away from him.
Cespedes won the trophy, as well as a WWE championship belt:
For his victory over Bryce Harper in the Home Run Derby, Yoenis Cespedes won a trophy with two silver bats and … a WWE championship belt.
Sure, why not? It works for Aaron Rodgers. On Monday night, it was presented by Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, who was given the vintage-style belt (unveiled by the Rock in February during a nostalgia run) by a friend.
“This is for the champion tonight, the Home Run Derby champion,” Jones said of the sparkly-yet-tastefully-understated belt (via USA Today). “I told anybody if they want to challenge, just bring a ref.”
And so the belt went to the winner and there happily was no Heyman double cross. The WWE theme is, you see, an Orioles deal, although it didn’t help Chris Davis, who leads the majors with 37 home runs, in the derby. He finished fourth with a bloody hand after tearing a callous.
“We did a thing where everybody’s at-bat song was old entrances from the WWE to bring back all our childhood memories,” Jones said. “I liked Stone Cold [Steve Austin] and The Rock. The Ultimate Warrior was a little bit before me, but I got to see the end of it with him. I always liked the guys with beer guts with no muscle definition whatsoever. Now these dudes are athletes, bodybuilders.”
See where each of Harper’s 24 home runs landed here.