Bryce Harper can handle this challenge, ready or not
“Getting to the big leagues and sticking is not 100 percent guaranteed for anyone,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “Bryce is the kind of kid that, he’s very confident. He knows he’s a good player. But you have to be like that in baseball. He’ll be able to handle whatever it is, whether he comes up and goes back down or comes up and stays up. For the most part, Bryce is very mentally tough for his age.”Zimmerman reached the majors a few weeks before his 21st birthday. He remembers facing John Smoltz, a player had grown up admiring, and thinking, ‘Holy [smokes].’ “You have to get past that point,” Zimmerman said. “You have to get past the point of, these are figures, these are superheroes, and now you’re playing against them. You have to put yourself on that level. Once you get past that, the game is the game.”In that regard, Harper will benefit by being more famous than pretty much everyone on the field. He calls Albert Pujols by his first name. He wore a hat with an uncommon logo this spring, and when asked for an explanation, Harper said, “Kobe and Beckham wear it.”I think Harper will feel less internal pressure in the majors than in Syracuse, and a few people in his orbit agree. If Baseball’s Chosen One fails in the minors, it is an embarrassment. If Harper struggles at the major league level, then he is just another player working through a slump. He is the rare player with less to prove in the majors than in the minors.The questions about his demeanor, his attitude, his makeup will come. The Nationals are past that.“Bryce, not so much anymore, but at first, had a different way of expressing his confidence,” Zimmerman said. “From last spring training to this spring training, I’ve never seen somebody grow up as quickly as he has in one year. The way he carries himself, he thinks [about] things differently now.”After Harper moved to minor league camp, he briefly became somewhat restless. But at Class AAA, he fit in well. His teammates teased him, and he teased them back.
“That’s never been an issue,” Class AAA Manager Tony Beasley said. “He’s always been a good teammate. He’s just another one of the guys in the clubhouse. He doesn’t separate himself or get any kind of special attention. He’s been awesome.”He’ll walk to the plate Saturday night at Dodgers Stadium. He may or may not be ready. He will have handled tougher situations on a diamond. What will happen? Who knows?
“What has he always done?” one Nationals coach said this winter. “He always found a way to be the best player on the field.”