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"I love the way people talk crap," Harper says. "I hear it all the time. Overrated. You suck. I'll just do something to shut them up, like, I'll show you. It's like in regular pregame work. I like to show off my arm. Just so it's like, There you go. Don't even think about trying to run."
His swing is downright violent, the bat whooshing through the zone at more than 100 mph. It is not pretty. Neither was Al Capone. 2 min. of fury, it says inside his cap, a reference to the time of the average plate appearance.
"What do I like about him?" says the NL scouting director. "Everything. He's got a great body. The perfect frame for baseball. A big-time arm behind the plate, but a good enough athlete to do anything you want. His bat speed is ridiculous. I've never seen anything like it. And since last year he's calmed down his approach a little bit. He used to want to go out and get everything. Now it's more under control."
His dad has been his lifelong hitting coach. Up at 2 a.m. to lay rebar to help build the Strip in Vegas, Ron Harper, a former high school baseball and football player, spent many afternoons, evenings and weekends on the field and in the cage with Bryan and Bryce. To further sharpen Bryce's hand-eye coordination, Ron pitched him sunflower seeds, bottle tops, dried red beans—just about anything small that didn't move straight.
• Twilight in Vegas is when dreams take wing, when sunlight gives way to neon. Dreams—of making it big, of being the lucky one, if only for one night, for one roll of the dice, for one pull of the handle—are what built this place as much as the steel rebar laid by men such as Ron Harper. The neon lights are winking again, beckoning like a pretty girl, as Bryce Harper stands in the parking lot of a restaurant off the Strip with his mom and dad. In T-shirt and shorts—no baggy uniform, no eye black, no dirt—Bryce looks younger and slimmer than he does on the ball field. He is a wiry-strong kid with room to grow. He is not one of the dreamers. He is on a mission: Baseball has been his purpose, not his dream, for as long as he can remember.
"Bryce has a saying," Ron says. "Whenever people say how good he is, he likes to say, 'I'm not done yet. I still have work to do.' He's going to get a lot better, and I say that because of how hard he works. I don't think he'll ever rest on his laurels."
Bryce Harper is a scouting director's perfect prospect. He has size, speed, power, intelligence, a lefthanded bat, an appetite for work, a strong arm, the ability to catch and the athleticism to play almost any other position, plus a happy home life. To be this good and this complete at age 16 is something that just doesn't happen in baseball. And maybe being the next LeBron in a sport that doesn't have LeBrons is the worst part of being Bryce Harper: to have such expectations thrown at you at such a young age. But this, too, is what makes him Bryce Harper: He gladly accepts the pressure as something else he can smack 570 feet clear over South Hollywood Boulevard.