Dude, that wall is saying bad things about you.
OK, Bryce Harper doesn’t need our prompting to take on an outfield wall. Fortunately, we can count on him doing it again.
One year and two weeks from the day Harper debuted with the Washington Nationals, he performed what’s destined to become a signature face plant in the Dodger Stadium wall Monday.
But being in the same ballpark as his first big league game provides the symmetry to a year that’s lived up to the hype that goes back to when Harper was 16 – and then some.
He came into the majors at full speed and merely revved it up – opponents and walls be damned.
Talents and personalities like his attract attention. In this age of self-absorption among our athletes, we just assume that they want – even demand – the attention.
That’s why the most common comment from scouts and other baseball folks since Harper’s debut pretty much boils down to this comment from an opposing scout midway through Harper’s Rookie of the Year 2012 campaign: “I really was predisposed to dislike this guy. But I can’t.”
Why? Because they see he plays the game the nebulous but oft-repeated “right way.”
That means with respect, with hustle, with the utter lack of reserve that’s just as likely to culminate with an 11-stitch standoff in a confrontation with a wall as with, “That’s a clown question, bro.”
It’s what makes Harper different ... special ... magnetic.
He’s like the hockey player who was strong on grit but a little lacking in skating ability who said, “Why learn to stop; the rink has walls.”
The hockey analogy is pertinent here because if baseball had hockey’s substitution rules, no doubt Harper would have been back in the game before it was over.
And no doubt he’ll be playing the game the same way as soon as his “day-to-day” status allows him back on the field. Harper, in fact, guaranteed it in a tweet after Monday’s injury. And, sure enough, he was back out there as a pinch hitter in Wednesday’s loss.
“I will keep playing this game hard for the rest of my life even if it kills me! Ill never stop! #RespectTheGame”
OK, so he ran over the apostrophe in I’ll like it was an opposing catcher, but good for him. And good for his teammates and the Nationals organization for returning the respect for how Harper plays the game.
“We’re used to it,” third baseman Ryan Zimmerman told The Washington Times after Monday’s game. “I would rather him not go all-out into the wall, ever. But that’s the way Bryce plays. I think some people look at it as a bad thing, maybe, and that’s why people boo or don’t like him. As someone who plays the game, if you play that hard every day there’s something to be said about that. And that’s what Bryce does.”
Want to know if a player is a gamer, a punk or something in between? Watch how the veteran players treat him. Pretty much from Day 1 in Washington, the veterans bought into what Harper brings.
Zimmerman made it clear last season how much Harper impressed them off the field.
“People have this perception of him that social media and everyone who doesn’t know him have created,” Zimmerman said of the same perception the scouts had to overcome, the one teammates sorted through quickly.
Zimmerman’s been the face of the franchise going on nine years now. He’s gradually losing that mantle to a guy willing to change the landscape of his own face to catch a fly ball or beat a relay to the plate.
Look, Harper caught a break this time. His X-rays came back negative – bruised left shoulder and left knee, the 11 stitches upside his head – and there was no concussion, which might actually be a factor of hitting the fencing in front of the low scoreboard rather than a solid wall, with or without padding.
The design of the surface Harper hit is taking its share of criticism from those who would dress Harper like the Michelin man, but it had the give a more solid surface wouldn’t.
And this wasn’t your ordinary wall crashing. If there’s anything to quibble about in Harper’s game over his first calendar year in the majors it’s been his somewhat creative routes to fly balls at times - Monday’s play included. Usually, his difficulty is immediately identifying the ball’s flight path.
Well, kudos, Bryce, for locking in on this one, though it seems to have made you oblivious to the presence of the wall. And thanks for reminding us why you’re what baseball needs.
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