Hate the fact that he blew a kiss at a pitcher after taking him deep. Hate the oozing eye black more in line with the Ultimate Warrior than a Double-A baseball player. Hate him for throwing his helmet. Hate him for being richer and more talented than you'll ever be at an age when finding a prom date is an accomplishment for most.
I love him for it, and cannot wait for the Bryce Harper era to begin in Washington. And while the vultures circle overhead just waiting to pounce if and when Harper fails to meet expectations — because that's what jealous individuals do when they need to find something to write — I'll just hope it never gets to that, for that would be an incredible shame.
Baseball doesn't need Bryce Harper, but boy could he help. He is as good an all-around talent as we've seen in years and more than willing to bark at those who want to tell him he's not. And all that extracurricular stuff that seems to drive old-timers nuts is just part of the package. Without it, he's a kid blessed with remarkable skills. With it, he's a kid blessed with remarkable skills and an I-don't-care-what-you-think mentality that is impossible to turn away from.
Harper is at a stage of his career when he is learning what it means to be a professional. It's almost comical when each tiny indiscretion is met with an outpouring of criticism from the moral police, who just can't tolerate when a teenager acts like a teenager in the midst of a man's game. He really needs to grow up, they say. Well, isn't that what this whole process is all about? He's 18. Most of his competition has been drinking legally for some time now. Still, he's just a wild child whose attitude will cause his demise, they say.
Hogwash. He's a one-of-a-kind talent going through a maturing process and showing us all along the way that he has as much fire as anyone out there. That's what made Pete Rose, apparently one of Harper's heroes, so beloved in his playing days. It's one thing we love about Dustin Pedroia in this town. Pedroia isn't blowing kisses at opposing pitchers, but he is not immune to letting an umpire know how he feels. Also, we weren't documenting Pedroia's 18-year-old antics in California state tournaments with YouTube feeds. Maybe a helmet was tossed at some point along the way.
Some Nationals executives recently drew criticism for comparing Harper to Jackie Robinson in the sense that both fell under intense scrutiny early in their careers. That was a bit much, but you can understand the point they were trying to make. At the risk of making another wild relation between Harper and a national hero, think back to Muhammad Ali for a moment.
His life and times cannot be compared one bit to that of Harper, who was raised in a well-off family and made into a baseball-playing machine through year-long play, but what turned Ali into such an attraction was that bravado and that cockiness, and the fact that he backed it all up.
If Harper begins to claim himself to be "The Greatest" and begins rattling off rhymes about how he will take down opposing pitchers, well, that might be a bit too much. At the same time, wouldn't you want to watch? Just to see what he does next? When was the last time baseball had a player like that? Has it ever? Probably not. The stuffiness of the sport doesn't always allow it.
However, if Harper backs it all up, it becomes the stuff of legend.
Sports fans these days love to hate more than they love to love. It fuels us. In Bryce Harper, we have a chance to do the latter. It may feel dirty rooting for someone who stirs the pot every other week.
I'll choose to do so, and will enjoy every minute of it.
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