Harper likes to look at it differently. Others,
including all 30 Major League organizations, may
see him as "the guy," but to Harper, he's not
feeling that pressure now that he's playing for
the nationally ranked College of Southern
"I don't have to be the 'Cinderella Man' anymore,
if that makes sense," Harper said during an extensive interview with MLB.com. "I don't have to go out
there and make sure I go 4-for-4 every day. I can
go 0-for and we still win the ballgame. That's all
that matters to me, as long as we have that 'W'
and by the end of the year, we have that ring on
our finger, that's all that matters. One through
nine, everyone can swing it. I don't have to be
that guy anymore. I want to be, but I don't have
Truth be told, he has been. Harper has hit .420 with eight homers, 27 RBIs, an .864 slugging percentage and a .514 on-base percentage in 27 games. He leads or is tied for the team lead in nine offensive categories. He is doing, as one
scout put it, exactly what was expected of him.
Living up to that kind of hype might sound
extraordinary, but to Harper, off the field has
been a bigger challenge than on.
"It is harder classes. You have to work," Harper
said about the academic jump. "[In high school], I went into class every day, it was so easy for me, I didn't really have any trouble with school or anything. The
transition from high school classes to junior
college classes has been pretty big.
"Everything's been pretty easy on the baseball
field with everybody around. They've made it so
much easier for me."
For those thinking this unusual jump is too much
for any teenager to deal with, there are
variables that need to be considered. The first,
and most important, is the comfort level Harper
clearly has at CSN. Coach Tim Chambers has known
the Harper family for years. Harper himself has
worked out, taken batting practice, virtually
grown up, at the school's facilities.
As a player who generally played at higher levels
against older competition, Harper also knew most
of his new teammates quite well. And he still
lives at home, so despite the accelerated
timetable, he gets to hold onto a little bit
of his remaining teen years.
"The best thing about living at home is my mom's
cooking," Harper said. "There's nothing better
than having your mom, coming home to a
fresh-cooked meal. Being able to go home, see my
mom, my dad, my family, it's great, to pat my dog
on the head and say, 'What up, boy?' Being able to
see my family every day, having that comfort at
home, being able to sleep in my own bed, things
like that. There's a full thing of laundry
downstairs right now. Sorry, Dad."
Then there's the level of competition to consider. High school baseball in Nevada, most agree,
is down compared to previous years. Harper, as
the best player by far on his team and in the
area, wasn't likely to be challenged by many
opposing pitchers. And that's if they even
bothered pitching to him at all.
Making the switch may have been one of the reasons Harper struggled a little bit out of the gate. Initially facing his own team's staff during intrasquad games, then getting into the grueling JUCO schedule that typically has CSN playing back-to-back doubleheaders, Harper didn't seem quite like himself when things got going.
"I'm not the only guy out here playing. There are scouts out here to look at the other guys, see how they're doing, and not just me. If I can help everybody else, then great."
-- Bryce Harper
"I don't think I struggled, it was just getting
into that mix of seeing all those guys, seeing
88-91 [mph] every day," said Harper, who
definitely does not suffer from a lack of
self-confidence. "It wasn't me struggling, it was
just that transition. I struggled the beginning of
high school, also. It's those first 20 at-bats,
you don't see live pitching. Everyone's going to
struggle. It wasn't that big of a deal to me. And
after those 20 at-bats, I got going and everything
As if Harper needed more to bring attention to
himself. Scouts have known about him for years
and weren't likely to miss an at-bat or inning all
season, whether he was hitting .220 or .420. While
some might shrink from that or come down with a
serious case of "draft-itis," perhaps because it's
become a regular part of his baseball life, Harper doesn't seem to be fazed by the scrutiny. While it's apparent that he enjoys the attention, he also sees an altruistic byproduct of scouts coming in droves.
"There's always been scouts around, there's always
been people around watching. I like that because
you're in the middle of it," Harper said. "They've
been around since I was 10 or 11 years old so
they're just other people in the stands. You can't
notice them. I don't notice them. I see them and
I'm just like, 'Whatever.' I have to play my game,
go out there and be me.
"There's like 20 other guys on the club that could
play pro baseball. I'm not the only guy out here
playing. There are scouts out here to look at the
other guys, see how they're doing, and not just
me. If I can help everybody else, then great."
It's not just scouts who have been keying in on
Harper, who's caught and played third and the
outfield for CSN so far this spring. It's become a
common occurrence for opponents to try
to get under the phenom's skin. Some have mocked
him by applying eye-black in the same fashion
Harper does. There's been plenty of trash talking
and threats of brushback pitches.
For the most part, Harper has dealt with it
relatively maturely. But a scan of YouTube -- where a fan can find just about every at-bat
he's had -- will turn up an instance when
he reacted. After homering against Western
Nevada, Harper can be seen saluting toward the visiting
dugout as he rounds third. That eventually led to
an ejection in the next inning for what was termed
"unsportsmanlike conduct." There are likely to be
two sides to every story and there's probably some
truth to both. Western Nevada clearly was saying
something to get Harper, and his teammates, to
respond. And it's also likely that Harper
overreacted to the taunting.
Chambers has told Harper and his teammates that they
must ignore those distractions. If a
national championship is truly the objective, no
one at CSN will be well-served if there are future
ejections. Harper probably learned his lesson when
he had to sit out the first game of the next
series, according to conference rules, and rather
than shoulder the burden entirely on his own, he
sincerely believes it's not just him with a
bull's-eye on his jersey.
"There's a huge target on our whole team," Harper
said. "We're the No. 1 team in the country.
Everybody wants to knock us off. Everybody wants
to take it to us. There's going to be trash
talking from everybody. Our team is just going to
have to deal with it, just do it with our bats,
our gloves and our arms. There's a huge target on
our whole team. It's not just me. I've been able
to cope with everybody."
There will be even more to cope with come June,
when -- even if Harper claims it's not the be-all, end-all -- he will hear his name called at some
point in the very early going of the First-Year Player Draft. Then it will be up
to that team and Harper's advisor, agent Scott Boras, to
hammer out a deal.
For his part, Harper is claiming not to be overly
concerned with all of the Draft hoopla. His
motivation to go to CSN was more about the
challenges, both educationally and athletically,
that came with moving so quickly to this new
level. He says that his
priorities are winning a championship and then
representing his country with USA Baseball. The
Draft? If it happens, it happens.
"It wasn't primarily about the Draft," Harper
said. "I could care less about the Draft. If I
could come back next year and play here, I'd come
back next year and play here.
"The rest of the spring, hopefully we're out there
in Grand Junction [site of the Junior College
World Series] dog-piling. If that happens, that
will make everything so much better, getting Coach
Chambers another ring.
"Team USA is huge for me. I love representing my country and playing against all those guys from Cuba, Venezuela and Korea. If the Draft happens, God willing, I'll go in the Draft and play pro baseball one day."