At 27, it’s hard to have athletes be your role models. Cal Ripken and Michael Jordan were certainly that during my childhood and I haven’t seen anyone hit that aura where an athlete can be a guaranteed star on the field and a humble, caring and classy guy off of it. These days, Derek Jeter joined that class of such human beings close to a decade ago and Jordan fell off of it years ago the more you hear the details of his personal life.
In my eyes, in order to check off the “guaranteed star on the field” box, you need to have moments. Cal had his 1983 World Series title, 400 home runs, 3,000 hits and his 2,652 consecutive games. Jordan has so many, I’ll end up making this post too long when I should be posting NHL divisional previews before the season starts. Even for Alex Ovechkin, he has his hat trick that matched Sidney Crosby’s in game 2 of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, 400 goals, 3 Hart Trophies and 4 Rocket Richard Trophies. Bryce Harper hasn’t had his moment, until now.
At 21, Harper still has time on his side, but I can’t fathom why I would go to Nationals games and see tons of jerseys and t-shirts with Harper on the back of them. He’s a talented athlete, there is no doubt about it. He will put out highlights that only the best of his generation can pull off, but he never has been able to put a full season of big numbers together. Sure, that is because of injuries and circumstances that were out of his control, but his adversaries like Mike Trout were doing what Harper can do and get involved in MVP races. If things go according to plan, Trout will have his first MVP award and his first true MOMENT (if only his catch against the Orioles two years ago did not happen in the regular season). Harper hasn’t hit .300, hasn’t hit 30 home runs or more and hasn’t driven in even 60 RBIs yet. He does have a Rookie of the Year award, but if Ben Grieve can win one of those, so can Bryce Harper. If you want to get sabermetric, he hasn’t even finished in the top ten in the Majors or National League in WAR.
But for one night at least, when the Nationals had to win to stay alive, Harper might have finally come alive when the baseball world expected him to since he made the Sports Illustraded cover at 16. He did so by making two game saving catches, drawing a walk in the seventh inning and then run the bases with fury when tacking on a run from Wilson Ramos’ bunt and then adding the piece to resistance with another skyscraper of a home run in the ninth inning. His latest belter now has him only behind Andruw Jones, Micky Mantle and Miguel Cabrera for most postseason home runs under the age of 22. You could argue that is a grand total of two moments in one day.
Now I don’t know if the Nationals will come back from this. Just as importantly, I still don’t know if Bryce Harper will live up to the hype. If Ovechkin can’t win a Stanley Cup yet, or if any Washington Redskins football player finds a way to underachieve miserably, Bryce Harper can certainly not live up to expectations. This city does that too us all the time. They just chew out good-natured sporting fun and spits it right back out. For now, part one of hopefully three of a job well done.