Washington Nationals' rookie, Bryce Harper recently made his Major League Baseball debut to much fanfare. It is an understatement to say that getting to the Majors is tough. But it is tougher to stay. Local stars, Brandon Guyer, Steve Lombardozzi, Mike Clemens and John Link will tell you so.
Perhaps no one knows this better than Chantilly’s own, Joe Koshanski, who recently hung’ em up after years of tireless effort. You are famous when a dozen or more Google pages are dedicated to you, but a Major League salary is much more comforting.
Talent will get you to the Show: having luck to be traded or misfortune to be stuck behind players who are secure in positions ahead of you, is professional baseball reality. But as so many players in the Show will tell you, staying at the top requires a firm grip on the mental game. Handling emotions, juggling a balance of pleasing coaches, fans, media and your family are Major League tasks.
A 19-year-old certainly does not possess the experience, maturity and wisdom of an adult. Many players invent unique motions, costumes or behaviors to attract fan attention. After all these people are entertainers. However they must first produce all star or high level performance. And to his credit Bryce Harper did accomplish all-star performances in high school and junior college. His recent .250 Minor League average was not so gleaming. Baseball is known for legendary characters that became unique. But only after they have been in the major leagues and established a consistently productive professional reputation.
There is a difference between celebrating and showboating. I can remember being 19, too. In my first collegiate at bat I hit a grand slam; a 410-foot shot over the
centerfield fence against Rice University. I literally floated around the bases hand high over my head celebrating in total joy and at the same time, amazement. I followed those at bats in that game with a two run homer and a ground rule double; one of the most memorable days of my life. The Rice Owl fielders let the freshman in me know that rounding of the bases in that manner was “bush” league. But I can tell you it was just a simple matter of ‘I can't believe I just did this!’
Bryce Harper on the other hand has a broad history of being somewhat of a clown. Arrogant field taunts, eye black that rivals kids at the door on Halloween and of course the hair and beard de jour. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against long hair, wear it as long as you want - in the off-season. However when you're on the ball field, it is an attention getting side show.
All of which is somewhat bizarre since Harper may possess some very accomplish skills. Certainly you can attribute his behavior to immaturity, however most players do not wear clownish makeup. The abundant amount (which he recently even cut back) of black make up under his eyes is ostensibly used to shield the sunlight glare from his vision. In college, his face makeup imitated Indian war paint. However, sports vision professionals say that other than a unique fashion statement, eye black actually provides no benefit.
A sign of things to come from Harper may be seen in his rounding first on his way to second double in his first major league game. While sprinting to second on a double, he purposely knocked off his helmet just as many little leaguers used to do. Why, I have no idea. Would it make him run faster? Would it make him more appealing to the centerfield camera? The actual thought and physical process of taking your hand and knocking off your helmet I'm sure would be viewed by many of running coaches as an enormous distraction negatively impacting speed.
In the past Harper’s personal design and behavior have sought to focus attention on him; not his team or school, just singularly on him. However Harper must now contend with a locker room of serious adult ballplayers under the microscope of major media markets. Certainly he has a choice. He could model his behavior after Derek Jeter and become a role model for young fans or he could go down there Barry Bonds path of — ‘It’s all about me, I have no use for any of you.’
It will be interesting to see how Harper gets along with his hitting coach, David Eckstein, a really nice down-to-earth young fella who is serious about improving hitters. I wonder how much coaching he will be able to do with Harper. But for now, Harper would be advised to become a worthy follower and loyal teammate. He should do whatever he can to support the serious, humble, hard working veterans like Ryan Zimmerman and amazingly mature young rookies like Steve Lombardozzi, both local good guys.
Can a glory-seeking teenager lose his stripes and assume a role on the team of men? Will he continue his clownish behavior and suffer self inflicted wounds of egotistical promotion? Will he remain in the Show or become a fading memory of the Side Show and crumble under the pressure demands of consistent performance? Stay tuned.
I'd like to see more professional athletes become positive role models for youngsters. I hope in Bryce Harpers case I'm surprised.
Follow John at www.pinkmanbaseball.com and on Facebook.