was made possible not only by the obvious - he is considered the best hitting prospect to come along in several years
and long ago enlisted high-powered agent Scott Boras as an "adviser" - but also by maneuvering to speed up the timetable.
week, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper was in Grand Junction, playing for College of Southern Nevada in
the Junior College World Series after obtaining his GED in December 2009 and leaving high school early. Junior college players
are eligible for the MLB draft; high school players aren't until after their senior seasons.
From the moment
the Coyotes arrived on the Western Slope, Harper focused his attention on the tournament and only the tournament.
He sounded as if he had been coached by Kevin Costner's "Bull Durham" character - or by Boras - when he deflected
The upcoming draft?
"I could care less about Monday right now," Harper
told me early in the tournament, after Southern Nevada's 12-7 victory over Iowa Western Community College. "I'm
just worried about that ring and the national championship.
Harper's appearance gave the tournament a rare feeling - a superstar
had come to town. Ultimately, though, his bizarre ejection from Southern Nevada's loss to eventual champion San Jacinto-North
effectively and prematurely ended his season because of the automatic additional two-game suspension that came with it.
Although Harper has
a swagger that has rubbed some the wrong way, the ejection seemed to be overreaction. Harper took a called third
strike that replays showed was significantly outside, and he accurately drew a line in the dirt marking the pitch's location
as he started back to the third-base dugout. Home plate umpire Don Gilmore tossed Harper.
that, near full-house crowds at Sam Suplizio Field got to see what the fuss was all about. Harper had two home runs,
a double and eight RBIs in his final full game, the victory over Iowa Western. His parents, Ron and Sheri, were watching
from the fourth row behind the dugout. Under the circumstances, it was surprising that Iowa Western three times pitched to
him with two men on base, but few in the stands complained.
Two days later, the championship ring was out
of reach. Without Bryce Harper available, the Coyotes lost to San Jacinto-North, then in a rematch against
Iowa Western the next day. In the final game, his teammates wore smeared eye black in his honor - his trademark fashion statement
- and second baseman Scott Dysinger wore his No. 34 jersey, although because of the lineup rules, the party line had to be
because Dysinger couldn't find his own.
"They love him," Southern Nevada coach Tim Chambers said of Harper after
the game. "He's their little brother."
Harper finished the season hitting .443, with 31 home
runs and 98 RBIs in only 66 games, most of them in a wood-bat league.
Harper concedes he will spend time in the minor leagues
if he signs this year, but that climb to a big-league roster isn't expected to take long.
He has been
labeled a phenom - even a freak in the complimentary sense - for several years, in the tradition of Wayne Gretzky or LeBron
James. YouTube and other communications innovation have made him even more of a teenage celebrity than most of his predecessors
in sports, and that's before factoring in a Sports Illustrated cover story a year ago. He has been an outside recruit for
"traveling" tournament teams across the country for several years and marked as a surefire major-leaguer since before
he could obtain a driver's license, and in that sense, his predraft reputation is akin to those of previous top picks Alex
Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr.
"I had people tell me a long time ago, 'This kid can really play,"'
his father, a Las Vegas native and construction worker, said. "But I still feel like he's my little kid. I really don't
put him up there like that. I know people say, 'Aw, this guy's got to be crazy,' but I'm not that type of dad. I'm not. After
games, the boys still get milkshakes. Last night after the game, we went to dinner at the Ale House, got some nice food, and
then I told them we were going to Red Robin because milkshakes would top it off just right. This is still a game."
the throwback way Bryce plays, it seems a bit of an upset that he doesn't chew tobacco or doesn't roll his pants
leg to show 8 inches of sock over a half-moon of a "sanitary." He loves to throw from his knees, ostensibly to try
to catch a runner off base or throw him out stealing, but also to show off his arm.
At the plate, what's
striking - even more than his stunning leg coil and swing torque - is the fact that he doesn't wear batting gloves. In this
era, that's like having a record player in your bedroom - a true original made when the latest Who album came out and played
at 33 1/3 rpm.
"I don't like 'em," Harper said of the batting gloves. "I like
the dirt. I like the feeling of playing in the dirt. I just put dirt on my hands, I spit on my hands, and I'm good to go.
I'm old school. I don't use them with wood bats, either. I'm not into pine tar or anything like that. I grab some dirt, grab
my bat and go."
But he could have been doing it for Las Vegas High School, where he would have been
a junior this spring. Instead, he was playing for the huge junior college - Southern Nevada's enrollment is 41,776 - in Henderson,
just outside Las Vegas.
"This has been a lot of fun, coming out here and playing ball and trying
to win the national championship," he said.
Chambers, Southern Nevada's veteran coach, said this season
was far more than a maneuver to get Harper in the draft pool, and that it aided his development.
learned a little about failure," Chambers said. "When you hit .700 in high school, you have to learn that you're
not going to get a hit every time. He's just developed into a much more patient hitter. In high school, he could hit pitches
that are way out of the zone because the velocity's way down.
"He knows he's not ready to go to the big
leagues. He knows he's got to get better at every aspect of the game. He's had a lot of fun. For Bryce, this is what
he does - play baseball. People think he missed things in high school. He didn't. He went to the prom. He goes to the dances.
When it's not high school season, he's traveling all over, playing anyway. That's what he does."