Bryce Harper, like LeBron James, was recognized as a potential superstar very early on. In March 2008, while Las Vegas was in the midst of its economic descent, the city’s Review-Journal wrote what seems to be the first profile of Harper in mainstream media. The paper explained that Bryce was part of a divorced family: a 2000 divorce left Bryce in his dad’s custody, and brother Bryan (who got a baseball scholarship to Cal State Northridge, but instead went on to play at the College of Southern Nevada with Bryce, and then the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, who won the 2010 and 2011 College World Series) and his sister in his mom’s custody. Jon Gold wrote:
Bryan, a level-headed senior with a full-ride scholarship to Cal State Northridge awaiting, is now on the mound for Las Vegas High and bats second.
Bryce, a fiery freshman, is behind the plate for the Wildcats and batting third.
Together, they’ve led the Wildcats to an 11-4 mark – Bryan with a 3-0 record, 1.50 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 20 innings; Bryce batting .500 with 21 hits, three home runs and 15 RBIs.
A battery in baseball heaven. That is, when the two aren’t bickering.
“We’ve gotten into it; that’s just brothers butting heads,” Bryce Harper said. “That’s just me and him. But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, it’s, ‘Me and you, let’s do it right here.’ “
Bryce has that kind of confidence in his big brother, and he’s not afraid to say it. He’s not much afraid to say anything. He’s the louder one, the snappy one, the 15-year-old with pictures of his baseball heroes on his wall and a Texas Longhorns blanket on his bed – a snapshot of unbridled passion. . . .
When he [Bryce] was 7, a travel-ball coach in Las Vegas asked him to play for his 10-year-old team. Forget the three-year gap, Bryce was a star. One team led to another and another.
And it has all led to this: at age 15, most scouts and baseball experts have Bryce ranked as one of the best players in the country, if not the best.
As a 12-year-old, Travelball-select.com – a Web site that ranks 12- to 14-year-old ballplayers – tabbed Bryce as the best player in the nation. Same honor when he was 14.
Four years from his first opportunity at the Major League Baseball draft, Bryce has his eyes on the top.
“I remember I was in fifth grade, my counselor came in and said, “What do you want to do?’” Bryce said. “I said I wanted to be a pro baseball player, and she said, ‘No, really.’ I get that all the time, and it pisses me off.
“I’m going to be a pro baseball player.”
Travel baseball has taken Bryce around the country – from California to Utah to Oklahoma to Georgia – sometimes for as many as 130 games a year. That’s not including the countless hours in the batting cage, or the time at the field, leaving his dad’s arm in shambles.
But it could all pay off. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, with a pristine swing and a 94 mph fastball, the dream might become a reality.
“With his work ethic, I don’t really know if Bryce has a ceiling right now,” Las Vegas coach Sam Thomas said. “He’s not Superman, he’s not perfect – but I think he’s doing pretty damn good for a 15-year-old.”
Thomas added, comparing the brothers: “They’re totally different people. Bryan is more social and laid back, and Bryce is more nose-to-the-grindstone. Tate is so mild and quiet, like a mouse, and Tanner is more outgoing. It’s almost like the seniors are the same and the younger ones are the same.”
In mid-January of ’09, Damon Seiters of the Review-Journal wrote that Bryce Harper “recently competed in the International Power Showcase at Tropicana Park in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he hit a group of home runs that are sure to be remembered. During one round of the home run contest, Harper hit six home runs that traveled an averaged 469 feet, including three that went 484 feet or more.
“His longest went 502 feet, which was the longest in the contest.
‘He had a great time, and he hit some memorable shots,’ said Ron Harper, Bryce’s father. ‘And it was a lot of fun seeing him out there on a (pro) ballfield.’
“Harper’s long shots all came using an aluminum bat, but Ron Harper said that doesn’t tarnish the feat. ‘It’s a metal bat, but I’ve seen him hit the ball 450, 460 feet with wood,’ Ron Harper said. ‘Wood or aluminum, the kid was hitting some majestic shots.’”
At about the same time (February 22, 2009), the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Rogers wrote that “Harper is 15 but has been on the radar of scouts for at least three years, maybe longer. He was only a 6th-grader when he showed up for his first national showcase, playing against players who were high school freshmen and sophomores.
“He homered twice in one game and showed solid skills behind the plate. According to Perfect Game, which runs those showcases, he has just continued ‘getting better and better.’
“He stands 6 feet 3 inches, weighs 205 pounds and has a quick, pure swing from the left side to go with one of the best arms in the country, pitchers included.”
Thomas, his high school coach, said Bryce “is not only a tremendous baseball player, but also one of the most respectful young men I have ever coached. His ability to play the game is matched by his desire for perfection and his work habits to reach that goal. His work on the field, in the weight room and in the classroom is second to none.”