Harper's jump to junior college makes perfect sense (cont.)
The Harpers did receive an offer from Howard Junior College, the 2009 junior college national champions from Texas, for Bryce and Bryan to enroll there. But the Harpers were not comfortable sending Bryce to a school that far away from home.
Unfortunately, too many people who haven't met Bryce Harper or his family or are not familiar with his talents write him off as the product of a hype machine who is moving too fast for his own good. Yet nobody hollered last winter when the Oakland A's gave $4.25 million to Michael Ynoa, turning him into a professional and a multi-millionaire at 16 years old, the same age as Harper. The only difference is that Ynoa, being born in the Dominican Republic, was not subject to the same draft restrictions as Harper. And who complains when a high-school math wiz takes college courses? Or when a teenage voice or violin prodigy leaves home to attend Julliard? Bryce is a baseball prodigy who comes from a happy, solid family background and is emotionally and physically mature for his age. His future is not guaranteed -- no more than that of No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg -- but he is ready for this next step. It's all we can go by now.
After I wrote the SI cover story on Harper, a veteran college coach told me he had seen Harper play as a freshman at the Area Code Games last year. The coach came home and told his own son, an eighth grader, "I just saw the best high-school player I've ever seen. And he's only a year older than you!"
Again: Nothing is guaranteed about his future. In fact, his father worries sometimes about how hard Bryce plays. He strained ligaments in his thumb while catching late in his high school season this year and endured two home plate collisions. "I told him, 'You have to prepare your body twice as hard as the next guy because you play so reckless and hard,'" Ron said. But right now we do know that his skills at age 16, according to baseball experts across the board, are undeniably superior.
The team most happy about the news that Bryce will attend junior college is the Washington Nationals, who look like a lock for the worst record in baseball, an indignity that would bring them the No. 1 pick in 2010. Inside of 12 months, the Nationals could wind up with Strasburg and Harper.
In the meantime, Bryce Harper is a happy, well-adjusted kid who loves baseball and plays it as well as any amateur player in the world. It is his chosen career, one that will enrich him personally and financially. And he is understanding of the responsibility and scrutiny that comes with such a profile.
"He signed autographs every day," Ron said about the tournament in Oklahoma. "Before games, after games, in between games. Twenty minutes would turn into 40 minutes and 40 minutes would turn into an hour. He's plum tuckered out right now. But Bryce felt bad about the little kids standing at the back of the line and never wanted to cut it off and stop signing.
"By the last day, we kept him out of the game, and he was signing away the whole time. He's back home now and he's a little tired. Just resting up."
Kids look up to Harper naturally. The eighth grade kids I coach have been buzzing about him ever since the story appeared. One kid told me he wants to be called Bryce now; I think he was kidding. The rest of us who aren't so young would do well to follow their capacity for hope and goodwill. Bryce Harper is a delighted kid, and we should be happy for him.
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