30 Seasons on City Island: Bryce Harper
This content was originally found in Issue No. 19 of this year’s Senators Program
Bryce Harper was in Harrisburg for a short time (the outfielder played only 37 games in a Senators’ uniform), but it was a noteworthy and memorable residence on City Island. Harper left an indelible mark despite batting a pedestrian .256 with three home runs and 12 runs batted in over 147 plate appearances.
On the morning of July 4, 2011 word leaked that the Washington Nationals were promoting Harper from Low-A Hagerstown. He had terrorized the South Atlantic League and treated the offerings of opposing pitchers like batting practice pitches over the first half of the season. The promotion itself wasn’t a surprise, but skipping High-A Potomac and having the 18-year-old wunderkind report to Harrisburg was a little startling.
From the outset, things were definitely different. The media onslaught followed Harper’s every swing and move at batting practice that afternoon. A record attendance of 8,092 fans poured into Metro Bank Park for that night’s game hoping for something special in Harper’s Harrisburg debut. The 2010 No. 1 overall draft pick didn’t disappoint as he lined the first pitch he saw, an 88 mph fastball from Erie starter Mark Sorensen, into center field for a single. Harper finished his first Class AA game 2-for-3 and impressively raced from first to third on an infield groundout, easily beating the return throw.
Harper would make headlines a month later when frustrated with home plate umpire Max Guyll’s strike zone the superstar to be slammed his helmet into the ground to earn an immediate ejection. Harper quickly moved inches away from Guyll yelling at the ump before showing him how far outside the called strike three was. It was an image that Harper’s detractors would use to question the prospect’s makeup and maturity.
If that was his lowest moment as a Senator, Harper’s greatest would come only two days later. Down one run in the ninth inning, Harper launched a two-run, walk-off home run to dead center field, traveling well beyond 450 feet, to give the Senators a 3-2 victory over the visiting Trenton Thunder. “It’s definitely the furthest one I’ve ever seen hit,” then Senators hitting coach Troy Gingrich said of the blast. Harper displayed his usual emotion with a fist thrust as he rounded first and then a helmet toss prior to landing on home plate and getting mobbed by his teammates. “It’s always nice to win a ballgame. It’s always fun to walk a team off and go enjoy it with your team,” Harper said.
Less than a week later, Harper’s 2011 season would come to an early end as the slugger would deal with a hamstring injury that shelved him through the playoffs. But for six magical weeks in Harrisburg, Harper flashed the brilliance that would carry him to the heights of the baseball world with the Washington Nationals.
“I don’t care. I really don’t. As long as I can look in the mirror and say I played as hard as I could. I think people get opinions when they see me play the game and see the hard-nosed, chip-on-my-shoulder kind of thing. That’s the way I play. I want to kick your teeth in. And after the game I can walk out of those doors and be the happiest person in the world.” – – Bryce Harper
“Last year he started grasping who Bryce Harper is. Rather than trying to create something more, to live up to someone else’s idea of who he should be, he just grasped who Bryce was and ran with it.” – – Danny Espinosa
“I want him to play 100 miles an hour with his hair on fire.” – – Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo
“To come to a place like this, it’s like, ‘Holy crap.’ It’s one step closer to the big leagues. I’m going to go out, play hard and let [the Nationals] make the decisions. I’m just trying to win ball games here in Harrisburg.” – – Harper on his arrival at Double-A
“He’s the real deal. You know why? It’s like he doesn’t take the game and the gift that he has for granted. He’s maximizing everything.” – – Damon Oppenheimer, scouting director for the Yankees
“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.” – – Ron Harper, Bryce’s father
“I put more pressure on myself than anybody in this world.” – – Harper
“I can’t remember a time when Bryce didn’t have big calluses on his hands from hitting. He was working when the rest of us weren’t.” – – Tanner Chauncey, childhood friend and teammate
“I feel sorry for the wall if he keeps running into them.” – – Davey Johnson
Awards & Accolades
- 2015 National League MVP (youngest unanimous winner ever)
- 4-time All Star (2012, 2013, 2015, 2016)
- 2012 National League Rookie of the Year
- Silver Slugger Award (2015)
- NL Hank Aaron Award (2015)
- 2010 Golden Spikes Award winner as the best amateur baseball player in the United States
- Youngest player in baseball history with 40 home runs and 120 walks in a season