A simple series of five words has become a symbol for one of the most surprising aspects of Bryce Harper‘s young career to date. Since he was 16 years old there has been an expectation that Harper would do great things on the field and he hasn’t disappointed – displaying patience at the plate, an ability to drive the ball to the gaps, a strong arm in the field, and hustle on the basepaths.
But the 19 year old has continued to show a maturity off the field that could never have been expected.
It’s never an easy feat for a rookie to adjust to life in the Major Leagues, but the pressure is added when you’re one of the most hyped prospects in recent years. Add in the fact that you’re 19 years old, batting in the middle of the lineup for a first place team, and starting each day at multiple positions and it becomes an even tougher challenge.
There have been instances where Harper’s maturity – and his ability to address adversity – could have been called into question but in each instance he’s come out on top looking like a seasoned veteran. Take the Cole Hamels incident, as an example.
In early May when Hamels started the series finale against the Nationals and faced Harper for the very first time, he wanted to welcome the rookie to the Major Leagues. With his first pitch Hamels plunked Harper in the lower back. Harper winced in pain for a brief moment, dropped his bat, and hustled down to first base seemingly without giving the moment a second thought. After advancing to third on a single to right by Jayson Werth, Harper wasted little time and stole home, becoming the first teenager to do so in a game since 1964.
Hamels made no effort to hide his intent after the game, essentially admitting he hit Harper on purpose. He was subsequently suspended and fined by Major League Baseball. When asked about the comments, Harper’s response was simple – he praised Hamels for being one of the top left-handers in the National League and noted how excited he was to have faced him.
Score one for the kid.
Place any other player into that situation and there’s a multitude of responses we could get. Odds are, none would have expected the way Harper handled the line of questioning. It’s likely none of us would have responded as such. Harper is showing that he can handle life as a Major Leaguer. For someone who should be just one year removed from his high school graduation, that’s a pretty impressive achievement.
While conducting interviews after Tuesday’s victory in Toronto, a Canadian reporter pointed out the fact that Harper was of legal age to drink while in Canada. He continued to ask Harper if he was going to “have a celebratory beer” that night. Harper had three hits in the game, most notably a massive home run that ricocheted off the restaurant windows in center field. At an estimated 438 feet it’s the second longest home run of Harper’s young career. His answer, as you’ve likely heard by now, was priceless:
That’s a clown question, bro.
Harper is already on pace for one of the greatest seasons by a teenager in baseball history and continues to impress off the field as much as on it. For years we’ve been led to believe that he’d be a “once in a lifetime” talent and now we’re finally seeing the truth behind those expectations. We’re already seeing the bat, the arm, and the hustle. Now the maturity further adds to the package. He’s not clowning around with his opportunity.