Bryce Harper: “I Want To Kick The Crap Out Of You”

IMG_3042.jpg“Gonna remember that first RBI for a long time?,” a reporter asked Bryce Harper.

“‘Scuse me?” Harper deadpanned up from his seat in front of a locker in the visiting clubhouse at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

The reporter tried again: “Are you going to remember that first RBI?”

“Did I get an RBI?” Harper’s act had reached its end and he smiled broadly. “Just kidding! Yeah.”

It had come in the 8th inning of a sloppy 10-8 Washington victory over the Yankees, off the prototypical AAA pitcher, Romulo Sanchez. But the single to right made the loudest sound of any ball connecting with any bat all day, and it was probably not coincidental that rightfielder Colin Curtis then bobbled it.

It’s not as if they’re going to put a plaque up to indicate it happened, although it was noteworthy that when Harper went into the game in the bottom of the 5th, as he jogged out to right, the other team’s crowd applauded loudly, as they did for his two plate appearances, as they did when he first emerged on the on-deck circle.

The first ribby also inspired remarkable perspective on comparative quickness. We will each have our own perspective on October 16, 1992. It was the day of the book party for Madonna’s $50 book of naked pictures of herself. The next day, Tom Glavine would four-hit Toronto to open the World Series. It was three weeks until Bill Clinton’s first presidential election. I had already been working at ESPN for ten months, Derek Jeter had already played 58 games in the minor leagues, and one of Harper’s current Washington teammates, Matt Stairs, had already played 13 games in the major leagues.

IMG_3038.jpgHarper said, with full sincerity: “It takes awhile.”

He was referring, of course, to the “30 to 40 at bats to get yourself ready,” during spring training – and not the seemingly lightning route that has put him in a major league camp at the age of 18 years and not even five months.

That route seems to challenge the expectation that Harper will have seen three Spring Trainings before he appears in a big league game that counts. It is noted that at this time in 2013 he will still be a young 20 year-old and that’s quick enough. Except the ball explodes off his bat and his adjustment to the outfield has already been such that he was as proud of starting a relay that nailed the Yankees’ Austin Romine at third base as he was of the RBI hit (shown to the left in what you’d say is a crappy photo, until you realize it was taken from the distant press box with an unaided iPhone).

Many newly-official men have looked like star big leaguers at 18. To go back to placing Harper’s birth in perspective, the ill-fated Yankee phenom Brien Taylor had already struck out 187 guys in his first 161 innings of pro pitching the day Harper was born. But it is hard to believe the Nats would arbitrarily slow down his pace through the minors to stick to an artificial deadline of 2013, because it isn’t just Harper’s physical game that’s so impressive.

His attitude is also already pretty well developed. Harper was asked by the small crowd of reporters around his cubicle what he thought of playing in a packed stadium festooned with Yankee self-promotion, and he admitted it was “awesome” to have shared a field with Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia and all the rest. He said “awesome” twice and added Nick Swisher to the pantheon of impressiveness, which should make Swisher say funny things later on.

But then Harper was asked if he’d said hello to any of these Yankees (even Swisher, who was almost 12 when Harper was born). “No. I don’t really care to say hi to anybody over there. I stick over here.” I wondered if that was humility or competitiveness. “You try to beat ’em. That’s what I am. If we’re off the field? Hey, I’ll go and say hello. You can be my best friend off the field and I’ll hate you on the baseball field. That’s how I am…on the field, I want to kick the crap out of you.” (By the way, here’s Dave Sheinin’s version of this in The Washington Post, including the very relevant detail that Harper grew up around Las Vegas as a Yankee fan).

One game, one portentous spring training, one killer instinct, and one exhibition game RBI do not mean you should step directly into the majors at 18. But they do tend to support the idea that suggesting it is theoretically possible at 19 is not at all crazy.

Take a nice deep breath:

An almost-forgotten pre-game ritual: The visiting team taking infield (and outfield) practice. The catchers are Derek Norris and Jesus Flores, the coaches Jim Lett and John McLaren. When I asked Washington manager Jim Riggleman about this, he said there was nothing better for a team before a game. “But on the road, the groundskeepers look at you like you’re crazy! ‘Get off our field!'” It looked to both of us like none of the Tampa groundskeepers had been alive the last time a big league team taking infield on the road, which may have gone out with Earl Weaver:

Just follow the big white line to spring:
And best of all, the scorebook comes out of hibernation:



    Ah, spring training.I love it;Simply for that fact that soon we will have the baseball season again.The best game, our game.
    Pardons to Walt Whitman.


    Your scorebook looks exceedingly neat, and the metal rings on the left indicate that you are serious about this! None of those cheap, ballpark scorecards for you! I understand all of your notation except for Swisher’s entry. What does the “NP” indicate? Not familiar with that one.


    Almost like being there. I love ST too. Here is AZ but in FL too. Your scoring, of course, is professional. It puts mine to shame. I usually start chatting and lose track after 3 or 4 innings, something my father could never understand. ๐Ÿ™‚ To krjc above, NP = number of pitches thrown.


    I have to echo djjeffhall: keeping score in pen!!?? I am too awestruck to say anything else.


    You appear to have picked a winner (as usual) in this Harper youngster! Amazing he is already on his way! I still find myself in awe of your writing skills. I know that is what you do, but for an English teacher, this is eye candy to read! And forget the pen (even though it is lovely!)…you’ve got the handwriting of an architect! That might have just been in your genes. Hunh? Thanks for sharing your love of the game. I am learning. Hugs!

  6. russelw

    This is interesting, I’ve read some not good things about Harper’s attitude. This paints him in a different light.

    Also, don’t want to speak for KO. But to attempt to answer some of the posts above, I believe the “NP” in the scorebook is really a “NF” – “NO Force” and the asterisks represent *-left handed hitter and **- switch hitter.

  7. fdfd45

    Hi Keith,

    You should do a post on scorekeeping. It is really a lost art at the ball game. I have seen old photos with a scorecard in nearly every fans’ hand. I too keep score in pen. It will last longer than pencil and looks much cleaner.

  8. jcantonoh

    Great and interesting writing Mr. Olbermann.

    As Bryant Gumbel pleaded with you once: “Come back to sports Keith, come back to sports.”


    Keith, I feel silly commenting on this blog about this, and even declined to tweet when I saw the photo of your scorecard. I know you have many admirers who are convinced they have a lot in common with you, whether true or not. This one commonality I have with you is legit.
    I write in ALL CAPS too. Honestly. I believe it started sometime in junior high in the 70s, though I’m not sure why. It may have come naturally, or at the time I may have thought it looked cool. But that has been the way I write ever since. I’ve received many compliments on my so-called ?precision? writing (which is arguable), and have been told that I should have gone into engineering or drafting, or some such field because of it.
    I can tell you that it’s hell on the occasional times I still have to write a check, because I’m so used to printing (or typing anymore) that cursive has become a real effort. I’m not kidding! I stand there at the grocery (or some other) check-out, embarrassed, with my hand contorted claw-like, as if the victim of some sort of palsy, barely able to write!
    So much for all of the HOURS I used to spend practicing cursive in my penmanship notebook in grade school.
    Anyway, it’s nice to see that I’m not the only one. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. fashionguide

    I can tell you that itโ€™s hell on the occasional times I still have to write a check, because Iโ€™m so used to printing (or typing anymore) that cursive has become a real effort. Iโ€™m not kidding! I stand there at the grocery (or some other) check-out, embarrassed, with my hand contorted claw-like, as if the victim of some sort of palsy, barely able to write!

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