There was never a doubt that the Nationals would draft Bryce Harper with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. The Las Vegas native was gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated, hitting 500-foot moonshots at Tropicana Field and putting up junior college stats so gaudy that even a video game would blush -- all at 16 years old.
Whether or not they'd be able to sign him in time, however, was very much in doubt. Washington had until the stroke of midnight on Aug. 17 to get a deal done, or else Harper would simply reenter the Draft next year. And as the clock ticked down, it looked like that just might happen ... until, at exactly 11:59:34 p.m. ET on Aug. 16, he and the Nats came to an agreement: a five-year deal for $9.9 million, including a $6.25 million signing bonus and eight semesters of college tuition.
Seven years, an NL MVP Award and several outstanding haircuts later, it's safe to say that was a wise investment. So, to celebrate this most hallowed Bryce-iversary (sorry), we've selected one awesome moment from each one of his years as a professional baseball player. (Did we leave any out? Be sure to let us know in the comments.)
2010: The Arizona Fall League
After spending the end of the 2010 season in Washington's fall instructional league, Bryce made his professional debut at the Arizona Fall League -- and, as you might expect, he didn't disappoint. Despite being the second-youngest player in league history at just 18 years old, Harper slashed .343/.410/.629 over 39 plate appearances for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
2011: The hitting streak
After hitting a casual .399 in Spring Training, Harper began his professional career with the Class A Hagerstown Suns. He would not stay there for very long.
He struggled at first, hitting just .233 over his first 12 games, and then promptly transformed into the Human Torch. From April 26 to May 14, Harper ripped off an 18-game hitting streak that included 12 multi-hit games, six dingers and his very first grand slam:
He played 72 games with Hagerstown that summer, and he hasn't looked back.
2012: His first and only steal of home
Harper made his MLB debut on April 29, 2012, at the tender age of 19 years and 195 days. He acquitted himself well that night at Dodger Stadium, driving in a run, notching his first big league hit and showing off his cannon of an arm. It was exactly one week later, however, that he gave us all a glimpse of the greatness to come.
After getting plunked by Cole Hamels during the Nats' May 6 game against the Phillies, Harper eventually made his way around to third. With runners on the corners, Hamels threw over to first base to hold the runner on ... and Bryce took off:
Harper was the first teenager to steal home since 1964 -- and in perhaps the brashest move of all-time, it was his first career stolen base.
2013: His first walk-off homer
The 2013 season was a frustrating one for Harper. After winning NL Rookie of the Year honors the year prior, he missed the entire month of June due to injury and entered play against the Pirates on July 25 with just four homers over his last 40 games. Luckily, he'd break out of that slump in a big way -- with his first career walk-off dinger:
2014: A home run derby in the NLDS
Harper struggled in his first taste of the postseason, hitting just .130 in a five-game loss to the Cardinals in the 2012 NLDS. He found himself back in the NLDS again two years later, this time against the Giants, and he was determined to do a little better.
He led off with a dinger in Game 1 and hit another in Game 3 to help Washington stave off elimination. Then, back in San Francisco for Game 4, he outdid himself with a certified splash landing:
The Nationals eventually fell in four games, with all three losses coming by a single run, but you can't blame Bryce and his .294/.368/.882 slash line.
2015: Six dingers in three days
Really, we could've just gone with "his entire season." Harper hit a still-mind-boggling .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers in 2015 (OPS+: 198), taking home the NL MVP Award in just his age-22 season.
But since we have to narrow it down a bit, how about the tear he went on from May 6-9? First, he hit three dingers in one game against the Marlins. Then, he launched two more in his next game against the Braves. And finally, to top it all off, he hit one more the very next day -- this time a walk-off blast:
2016: 100 grand
By this point, Harper had already demonstrated a flair for the dramatic -- again, his first career stolen base was a steal of home. So, as he sat on 99 homers last April, it was clear that No. 100 couldn't be just any old dinger. It had to be special.
Like, "first MLB grand slam on mom's birthday" special:
2017: A homer in every NL park
Amazingly, Harper is still just 24 years old -- it seems wrong for him to be making history at this point in his career. And yet, back on May 17 against the Pirates, he managed to check off a box on the career bucket list: Hit a home run in every current National League park.
Here's to seven more years, Bryce.