- Bryce Harper was playing T-ball at age three against six-year-olds, partly to be with his older brother, Bryan.
Bryan was drafted by the Nationals in the 31st round, but elected to attend Cal State-Northridge.
By the time Bryce was nine, travel teams from California to Colorado to Oklahoma were calling the Harpers and offering to put their son on a plane, lodge him in a hotel and provide his meals so he could play for them in tournaments. A travel player for hire. He went, of course. Most times either Ron or Sheri went with him, but sometimes, for work or monetary reasons, they could not go, so Bryce went alone. He has played between 80 and 130 baseball games a year each year for seven years, in more states than he can remember.
"People say, 'Weren't you deprived of your childhood?' " Bryce says. "No way. I would not take anything back at all. Everything about it was great. I got to go places, meet people, play baseball against older kids and better competition. I had a great time."
Bryce is a normal young man. He played football until 2008, and he loves to snowboard in the winter.
"We don't limit him in any way," his Mom, Shari said. "He loves to play baseball. He would come home after being away playing baseball all weekend, get off the plane and not an hour later be bored and say, 'Dad, let's go to the cage and hit.' I mean, he still sleeps with his bat. He'll get a new bat and go, 'Dad, isn't she a bee-yooty?'"
It was after one of those player-for-hire trips that Sheri began to understand that her son was really special. Bryce, then 12, was playing in a tournament in Alabama on a field with 250-foot fences. It was a trip Sheri could not attend. When Bryce phoned home, Sheri asked him how he'd done. "I did all right," he replied.
Later one of the coaches called Sheri. "Did he say anything to you?" the coach asked.
"No, not really," Sheri said.
"He went 12 for 12. Eleven home runs and a double."
"That," Sheri says, "is when I knew." (Tom Verducci-Sports Illustrated-6/08/09)
- Harper did volunteer work when he was in high school. And he had a 3.5 grade point average. He also atteded religious education classes nearly every morning before school.
- Bryce is an impact player with the skills, body and attitude—he says he models his game after those of Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose—perfectly suited for the sport.
He has always wanted to play baseball. And he has an enormous capacity for working at the game with dedication. When asked about his goals as a ballplayer, he replies with an unemotional certainty: "Be in the Hall of Fame, definitely. Play in Yankee Stadium. Play in the pinstripes. Be considered the greatest baseball player who ever lived. I can't wait."
- His father, Ron, is a steelworker, while his mother, Sheri, is a paralegal.
- In 2008, as part of USA Baseball's 16-U team in the Pan Am Championships in Mexico, Harper signed autographs for 45 minutes, until the wee hours of the morning, after pitching the 11th inning of a 3-1 win over Cuba. He batted .571 in the tournament, with four home runs in eight games, a 1.214 slugging average, a .676 on-base percentage and six stolen bases in six tries—all team highs among regular players—and was named MVP.
It was during an international home run hitting showcase in January that Harper, with a metal bat, walloped his 502-foot shot at the Trop, part of a run of six consecutive homers that averaged 469 feet. (The night before the competition, Babe Ruth's granddaughter displayed a commemorative bat to be awarded to the player who hit the longest home run. In his own version of a called shot, Harper told the Babe's kin, "I'm going to win that bat." And he did.)
Harper plays baseball with a viciousness, a seeming contempt for whoever and whatever dares get between him and victory. "I'm going to play against you the way Pete Rose did," he says. "I'm going to try to rip your head off. That's just the way I am. Old school. If I could play for a guy like Lou Piniella or Larry Bowa, I'd love it."
Before he hits, Harper lays his bat down in the batter's box, takes two steps toward the pitcher, bends over, scoops up dirt in his bare hands (batting gloves? Hah!), rubs it between his palms and then returns to grab his bat and take his place in the box. "He's got this thing for dirt," Sheri says. It looks like an act of defiance, a marking of territory—in this case, home plate—as his alone.
"I love the way people talk crap," Harper says. "I hear it all the time. Overrated. You suck. I'll just do something to shut them up, like, I'll show you. It's like in regular pregame work. I like to show off my arm. Just so it's like, There you go. Don't even think about trying to run."
"Bryce has a saying," his father, Ron says. "Whenever people say how good he is, he likes to say, 'I'm not done yet. I still have work to do.' He's going to get a lot better, and I say that because of how hard he works. I don't think he'll ever rest on his laurels." (Tom Verducci-Sports Illustrated-6/08/09)
In 2009, Harper was Baseball America's High School Player of the Year as a sophomore. The magazine had never even picked a high school junior as their POY, much less a sophomore.
That season, Bryce hit .626 with a .723 on-base-percentage and a 1.339 slugging percentage in 115 at-bats, with 14 homers and 55 RBI.
Bryce chose to pursue his GED rather than go back to high school for his junior year in the fall of 2009. Yes, he skipped the last two years of high school and got into college so he could be drafted, but maintained a 4.0 average in junior college. He has said his "pet peeve" is when teachers do not get their proper respect. He gravitates to Nationals' veterans like Mark DeRosa, Rick Ankiel ("He deserves all the respect in the world for overcoming what he's overcome."), and Jayson Werth.
The player Harper most enjoys being compared with is George Brett. (When told that, Brett said, "He had to be the only 17-year-old in this country who knows who I am.") When journalist Danny Knobler told Harper that he used to cover the Tigers, Harper wanted to know about Al Kaline, and astounded Knobler by knowing Kaline at age 20 in 1955 was the youngest batting champion.
Asked on MLB Network whom he'd like to meet if he could go back in time, Harper replied, "Jackie Robinson, not only because he was a Hall of Fame player, but because of all he went through." Harper talks about hoping to meet several players around the game if and when he makes it to Washington. One of them is veteran grinder Chase Utley.
For now, Harper plays off the role of being the brash kid. "It's unbelievable what people scream at him from the stands," says DeRosa. "One day, there was a man with his three kids yelling obscenities." It happened throughout the Minors last year.
Just before the 2010 draft, Baseball America asked Harper what he missed about being in high school.
"I have not missed one thing at all. I really haven't. I didn't really have any friends in high school because I was about baseball. That's all I was about. Everyone else, they were about partying and all that kind of stuff. I stayed away from all that. I was pretty much a homebody. Go to school, go to baseball, go to the gym and come home. And eat a great home-cooked meal by my mom. That was my day. Then Sundays I'd go to church," Bryce said.
Harper used to use a whole lot of eye black under his eyes and on his cheeks. But he cut it back a lot in 2011.
Bryce is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Morman. But he does not plan on doing a mission.
"I think I can do what I can on the field to get people to look at me and say, 'He's LDS.' I can do a lot more things on the field. I probably could go out and say 'This is the right church,' but I can do that on the field and being a walking book of Mormon. Is it in my repertoire to go do a mission? Yes, but after my career and everything like that. When I'm older I'll go on a mission, but as of right now, no, not at this age," Harper told Baseball America.
Movie: Bull Durham
Musical Group: "I love Lil' Wayne, but I'm pretty much all about country. Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, and Big & Rich."
Dream Car: "1969 Chevelle SS. Or a Range Rover Sport, black on black. I love the '55 Belair. I love all the old-school cars," Bryce said.
Celebrity Crush: Megan Fox.
Asked about his hobbies, Harper told Baseball America, "I love to go to the beach. I love going to Oklahoma. I love to snowboard. Going fishing. Hanging out with my pops. Me and him are best friends. Just going to the lake; hanging out, having a good time."
Bryce plays with a lot of passion.
Harper's uniform number with the Nationals is #34—3 plus 4 equals 7. And the #7 was Mickey Mantle's number. And The Mick is Bryce's all-time favorite player.
In 2010, Bryce was awarded the Golden Spikes award.
August 16, 2010: Just before the midnight deadline, Harper signed a five-year, $9.9 million contract, which includes a $6.25 signing bonus. Mitch Sokol is the scout who signed him.
The Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Bryce as the #1 prospect in the Nationals organization in the winter before both 2011 and 2012 spring trainings.
Harper had an eye exam on April 19, 2011 that resulted in prescription contact lenses. He then went on a hitting tear.
When Bryce signs an autograph, he normally put his uniform number (34) and LUKE 1:37 (which reads, "For with God, nothing shall be impossible.")
Probably around the time Bryce became a teenager, his father, Ron, taught him never to drink anything from a glass or open container if he was unsure about its chain of custody.
"I still do that," Harper said late in the 2011 season. "I don't drink at all. When I'd go to parties with my buddies—it's Vegas—I'd always bring a water bottle with me. I'd keep it in my hand no matter what. I still do. Anytime I go to anybody's house, I always have it in a closed container. I open it up, drink it right away or keep it close, just in case. Things happen, and I don't want to take a chance."
Arnie Beyeler, the manager for the Pawtucket Red Sox, had Harper in the Arizona Fall League and said, "He plays as hard as anyone I've ever seen. I love him."
That time in 2011 that Harper blew the kiss at the Greensboro pitcher? Bob Boone was at the game and said, "The pitcher was talking trash." Harper added: "The only time I do some of these things is when someone disrespects a teammate."
Asked on MLB Network whom he’d like to meet if he could go back in time, Harper replied, “Jackie Robinson, not only because he was a Hall of Fame player, but because of all he went through.”
Harper talks about hoping to meet several players around the game if and when he makes it to Washington. One of them is veteran grinder Chase Utley.
Harper was named the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year. It was a close decision over the D-backs' Wade Miley and the Reds' Todd Frazier.
Harper's game-worn 2013 opening day jersey was auctioned off, and the Nats slugger was not happy about it. The jersey sold for just over $13,000. If only he had known sooner, he could have bid on it. Harper took to Twitter to express his frustration that the first opening day jersey of his career is in the hands of someone else.
Bryce tweeted "They just take my jersey away from me and don't ask if I want it or anything! First opening day! Jersey gone!"
Early in 2013, it was reported the Bryce was dating BYU soccer player Kayla Varner.
Sports Illustrated's Dan Patrick asked Harper, "When's the last time you were nervous in a game?"
Bryce responed, "I've never been nervous. I never feel pressure. It's so much fun to be part of games that are 1-1 going into the 10th inning. Or you're up bases loaded, bottom of the ninth. That's something you live for. I've always dreamed of hitting a walk-off home run in the playoffs."
Patrick asked, "Is it hard to live your life?"
To which Harper said, "I got a great group of guys on my team and a great family and support at home. (I try to) have fun while I'm playing and be a good person on and off the field."
Hall of Fame outfielder Al Kaline said late in July, 2013, that he is fascinated by the way the Nationals' Bryce Harper plays the game of baseball. Kaline loves the way Harper goes all-out on every play and is impressed by how Harper has handled the pressures of big league life at such a young age.
"He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played," said Kaline, who is currently a special assistant to Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. "He has tremendous ability and I expect him to go on -- if everything goes right -- to be one of the best players that ever played this game."
Kaline doesn't see Harper reaching a middle ground to avoid injuries. "If you pop up to the infield, you know it's going to be an easy out, you don't go 110 percent. You make sure you get on base and may get the extra base," Kaline said. "And of course ... the walls ... he is fortunate now that he plays the outfield where the walls are all padded. When I played, they were concrete.
"There are times -- instead of going full belt into the walls, where he might hurt himself for good -- you have to be careful. But you can't teach that. He's got to play the way he is taught and the way he has always played. He would probably feel he let the fans down if he didn't go hard all the time."
Kaline and Harper share something. They both entered the big leagues as teenagers and became major players early on. At 19, Harper helped the Nats win the National League East title and won the NL Rookie of the Year Award. At 20, Kaline won the American League batting title. In Kaline's opinion, Harper is much stronger than he ever was.
"I've been fascinated by what he has been able to do. He's much stronger than I ever was, because I was 150, 155 pounds," Kaline said. "The only thing I would tell him is respect the game -- which it looks like he does -- take care of his body, be a good team player. If you leave this game as a good team player and gain the respect of your teammates, then you have done a great job. I know he is going to go all-out. I just hope that he stays healthy."
Kaline is impressed with Harper's swing. The Hall of Famer believes Harper is capable of winning the home run title. Kaline is not sure if the outfielder can win a batting title like he did in 1955.
"It looks like to me that he swings for home runs," Kaline said. "To me, if you swing for home runs a lot, you are not going lead the league in hitting. He is certainly capable of doing both if he puts his mind to it. He is trying to do what the team thinks he needs to do, whether it's a power hitter, he will probably try and do that. ... Whether he is able to [win the battle title and home run title], I don't know, because he is very, very aggressive at the plate." (Ladson - mlb.com - 8/01/13)
Harper, who attended seminary classes at 5 a.m. on weekdays in high school, writes "Luke 1:37" on every autograph he signs. "For with God, nothing shall be impossible." It's his own way of spreading the gospel.
The Nationals traveled to Toronto to play the Blue Jays midway through the 2012 season. After one game, a reporter asked if Harper would take advantage of Ontario's lower drinking age (19, versus 21 in the U.S.) by drinking a celebratory beer with his teammates.
Harper, who is a Mormon and does not drink alcohol, replied, "I'm not going to answer that. That's a clown question, bro."
The comment quickly developed into an Internet meme, and the phrase itself repeated, in response to a question, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Harper filed an application to trademark the phrase.
Harper announced in January 2014, that he wants an Ultimate Fighting Championship belt. No, he doesn’t want to become a fighter. He just wants one to wear, and he’s willing to hit a home run during batting practice with it if the UFC will give him one. The UFC responded by sending him a belt as long as he would take a picture hitting a home run wearing it.
Spring Training, 2014: He doesn't wear all-out, warrior face paint like he did in college anymore, but Bryce Harper does still enjoy playing baseball with a healthy amount of eye black. So it's only natural the Nationals star now has his own eye black company.
WarriorBlack will be available later this spring, but Harper teased the company's unveiling Monday with a re-tweet of an advertising photo featuring the 21-year-old wearing the product, plus a hat and T-shirt sporting the company's name.
Harper did the photo shoot a couple of weeks ago in Viera, his latest commercial endeavor.
WarriorBlack touts itself as: "The premiere anti-glare under-eye formula availble, and the only choice for MLB superstar Bryce Harper."
.3em;"='""""""'>In July, 2013, Harper was the youngest National League All-Star starter in history at 20. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, and he and Tony Conigliaro are the only big leaguers with a pair of 20-homer seasons before their 21st birthday.
.3em;"='""""""'>Bryce's diet veers between world-class athlete and overgrown kid, which makes sense because that’s what he is. Harper pours glutamine powder into yogurt-and-fruit shakes and drops amino vitamins into homemade organic juice. He also scarfs his mom’s made-from-scratch cooking. He sneaks Klondike Bars, Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes and Double Stuff Oreos. He does not drink Red Bull or Five-Hour Energy, both full of sugar and caffeine and “absolutely terrible for you,” he said. Harper may submit to a craving for Mountain Dew but only in the offseason, and even then he takes one sip and throws the can in the trash..5em='""""""' 22px;='""""""' serif;='""""""' georgia,='""""""' left;='""""""'>“I mean, I’m not perfect,” Harper said, laughing as he sat in the Washington Nationals’ dugout late in 2014 spring training. “I eat ice cream all the time. Outside of that, I’m going to be smart.”
Harper avoids sugary drinks, treats pain relievers with skepticism and abhors performance-enhancing drugs. He turned 21 in October. He says he still does not — will not — drink alcohol..5em='""""""' 22px;='""""""' serif;='""""""' georgia,='""""""' left;='""""""'>“My body is what I work with,” Harper said. “It’s not just sitting behind a desk and I have to use my hands all day. It’s my body. This is what I have to do every single day. I come in, and I have to feel good. If you’re going out and drinking and partying, you’re not going to feel good the next day. I want to get my eight hours and be able to eat good meals and not be sluggish or anything like that. My body is my temple, and I’ve always thought that.”
.5em='""""""' 22px;='""""""' serif;='""""""' georgia,='""""""' left;='""""""'>In the winter, Harper relies on his mother for the brunt of his nutrition. Protein from grilled chicken. Healthy carbohydrates from pasta. She makes everything, from ranch dressing to spaghetti, so Harper knows he will not be putting artificial sugars in his body. “She’s unbelievable,” Harper said. “I’m very, very lucky.”.5em='""""""' 22px;='""""""' serif;='""""""' georgia,='""""""' left;='""""""'>Harper adds sophistication to his mom’s cooking. He researches vitamins online to determine what supplements to use and when to use them. He uses creatine powder in cycles during the winter, typically four weeks on, two weeks off. He said amino vitamins, which his father turned him on to, are “the best thing I can put in my body.” After workouts, to maximize recovery and eliminate cramping, Harper uses glutamine powder. He adds liquid protein to drinks..5em='""""""' 22px;='""""""' serif;='""""""' georgia,='""""""' left;='""""""'>He will drink black coffee if he needs a jolt during the season. He uses off-market Gatorade products that do not contain sugar. Harper began making his own juice this winter and loved it — kale, cucumber, green apple and green tomato is a favorite. When he wants a late-night snack, he devours — “crushes,” in his vernacular — an avocado-and-cucumber sandwich. (Adam Kilgore - Washington Post - 3/27/14)
"You can't question the way the kid plays the game," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "He plays the game hard."
Harper may be only 21, but he has typically been old-school in his approach. Charlie Manuel, when he was managing the Phillies, had old-school covered. He was asked which contemporary player played the game the way it should be played. "The left fielder for Washington," Manuel said, meaning Harper.
There was one notable break in that wall-to-wall effort in April 2014, when Harper failed to run out a comebacker to the pitcher. Williams removed Harper from the game. Harper said the manager had done the right thing. All parties rapidly moved on from the episode. It stood as a surprise, in that it differed so dramatically from Harper's usual level of effort, but it was not an issue that festered, or lingered, or created a long-term problem.
Harper has suffered injuries as a result of his nonstop approach. He missed 44 games in the 2013 season. Harper had a left knee injury, the result of running into an outfield wall at Dodger Stadium. The risk of injury will continue as long as he plays all-out, but neither the player nor the club would be well-served by having Harper turn into somebody else, somebody less, on the field.
Harper is running, but it's not like he's running for office. His public comments can be candid, perhaps too candid for his own good. But that candor beats the alternative.
Asked what he thought about comparisons between Mike Trout of the Angels and himself, Harper didn't pull any punches. "I really don't care," he said. "I couldn't care less about opinions. If they like him, they like him. If they like me, they like me. If they like both of us, then they know the game. If they don't, they're crazy."
After a recent injury, there will undoubtedly be calls for Harper to ditch the headfirst slides and/or generally curtail his full-tilt style of play. Swell. If he did that, he would be somebody other than Bryce Harper. That is not what will win for the Nats. There are no halfway measures in the game of Bryce Harper. (Bauman - mlb.com - 4/29/14)
May 31, 2014: Harper and long-time girlfriend Kayla Varner made their first public appearance as an engaged couple at the team’s Dream Gala fundraiser. Harper, the first round draft pick, and Ohio State soccer player Varner confirmed their engagement.
July 2, 2014: Nationals manager Matt Williams did his best to eliminate any perceived tension in his clubhouse regarding Bryce Harper's comments about the lineup.
Before returning to the field after missing more than two months with a torn left thumb ligament, Harper addressed the media and displayed some dissatisfaction with Williams' decision to hit the 21-year-old slugger sixth in the batting order.
Harper also disagreed with where individuals were playing in the field, stating that Ryan Zimmerman playing left field, Danny Espinosa playing second and Anthony Rendon playing third "should be what's happening." Harper's proposed lineup would have presumably moved him to center field in place of Denard Span.
Instead, Williams played Rendon at second, Zimmerman at third and Harper in left field, with Span retaining his starting job in center field. The rookie manager proposed that Harper's comments were taken out of context.
"What was the question asked?" Williams said. "And how did he respond to that particular question? We don't often hear the question. We just get the response. So with regard to scrutiny regarding the lineup, that's on me. I make the lineup. And that's all that Bryce said: 'He makes the lineup. I'll play left field or I'll play center or I'll play wherever he wants me to and I'll hit wherever he wants me to.' I think that's the proper response. And I don't think he had anything different. He said 'If I have the pen, it may be different.' That's perfectly fine. It's perfectly fine. That doesn't mean he disagrees with the way I'm doing things or has some issue with me. What it means is that, yeah, if I was him, I would want to hit third or fourth too. Who wouldn't?"
In reality, the question that prompted Harper's response asked how appreciative Harper was of Zimmerman's unwavering willingness to move from position to position. After his return on June 3, Zimmerman started 25 games in left field -- a brand new position for him. He since returned to third base even though he made clear on multiple occasions he'd prefer to stay in left.
Nonetheless, Williams said Harper's place in the order is a temporary situation as the outfielder continues to improve after the injury that sidelined him for 57 games.
"I will tell you this, it would be beneficial, I think, for everybody to just see how it plays because I don't anticipate Bryce Harper hitting sixth the rest of the year," Williams said. "There's a number of reasons for it, but first and foremost is he's just coming back from injury. So does he hit two for us? Yeah. Does he hit three for us? Yeah. Does he hit four? Yeah. Maybe not today, but he will. And it will be this year."
Williams cautioned reporters who make the assumption that Harper was calling out Span with his remarks on the lineup. But most importantly, the manager said he's ready to put the ordeal in the past.
"That's where we're at right now. He's good. I'm good," Williams said. "He wants to play. He wants to win. I want to write his name in the lineup every day. His teammates are there to support him. He's there to support his teammates. And we're going to move on." (Daniel Popper MLB.com, 7/2/14)