New book shares stories of LDS baseball phenom Bryce Harper

Published: Monday, Aug. 27 2012 9:00 a.m. MDT

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper rounds the bases after his solo home run during the first inning of a baseball game with the Atlanta Braves, Sunday, June 3, 2012, in Washington.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

If Bryce Harper succeeds with his master plan for conquering the baseball universe, "The Last Natural" will be must-read material for any aspiring Harper biographer.

In his recent book, author Rob Miech captures the dusty details of a critical period in Harper's development — the 2010 season, when Harper was both the youngest and the best college baseball player in America.

Now a 19-year-old outfielder for the Washington Nationals, Harper first achieved national notoriety three years ago after appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated next to the headline “Baseball’s Chosen One.” Last month Harper became the first teenager ever to bat in the 80-year history of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been dropping Harper’s name in public since 2010.

“The Last Natural,” which takes place when Harper was 17 years old, pulls back the curtain on Harper’s final months before he became a multimillionaire. In the process, Miech reveals that family, faith and compassion are anchors the teen relied upon to stay focused and unfazed in the face of burgeoning celebrity and impending wealth.

Blazing a new trail

After Harper’s sophomore year of high school, he made an unprecedented decision for a baseball player. He earned his GED so he could skip his junior and senior years in high school and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada for the 2009-10 school year. The goal of this strategy was to make Harper eligible for the 2010 MLB draft — a full year earlier than if he had just waited to graduate from high school in 2011.

As a result, Harper was going to spend the 2010 season competing against college athletes instead of being a junior in high school.

Miech, a veteran sportswriter, had time on his hands at the dawn of 2010 after being laid off by the Las Vegas Sun. Miech enjoyed a tight-knit relationship with Southern Nevada baseball coach Tim Chambers that began with a profile Miech wrote about Chambers in 2003, so the scribe received full access to every aspect of the Southern Nevada Coyotes for an entire season in order to document Harper’s unique passage through college baseball.

“I think the best thing I had going for me was the fact that I didn’t know anything about Bryce going into that season,” Miech said. “I hadn’t seen him play — I had an absolutely blank slate. Obviously he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, but seeing him on that cover was actually the first time I heard his name.”

Brotherly bond

Bryce Harper did not lack for parental support in 2010. He continued living at home, and his father, Ron, was ever-present at practices and games. But an often-overlooked family tie that did a lot to galvanize Harper during his year at Southern Nevada was the chance to play baseball on the same team as his older brother, Bryan.

At 6-foot-5, Bryan Harper is two inches taller and three years older than “little” brother Bryce. A left-handed pitcher, Bryan went 11-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 2010 as a sophomore for Southern Nevada. He was a legitimate pro prospect in his own right, he just wasn’t a once-in-a-generation talent like Bryce.

Bryan helped Bryce learn to stay even-keeled despite the frequent failure inherent in baseball, a sport where even the best hitters record more outs than hits. “Many teammates and (Southern Nevada) coaches considered Bryan Harper to be the most levelheaded and rational Harper male,” Miech wrote in “The Last Natural.”

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