New book shares stories of LDS baseball phenom Bryce Harper

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

Indeed, Bryan was so dialed into Bryce’s personality and mannerisms that Bryan had a knack for predicting what his younger brother was about to do before he did it. For example, when Bryce got ejected from a game for unsportsmanlike conduct after sarcastically bowing toward the opposing dugout from his position in right field, Bryan immediately ran onto the diamond to prevent a fuming Bryce from angrily confronting the umpire who issued the ejection.

“Bryce was ticked and he was running in at the umpire,” Miech said. “Bryan knew to get out there and contain (Bryce) and curtail him from any further damage with the umpire. So Bryan got out there, headed him off and escorted him off the field. … Bryan’s presence on that team was so invaluable. He’s such a cool, levelheaded kid — so smart, so funny.”

During 2011, Bryan Harper pitched for the College World Series-champion University of South Carolina. He now toils in the low minor leagues of the Washington Nationals system — meaning that if Bryan can make it to the major leagues, the Harper brothers will probably find themselves playing on the same team again.

Faith matters

Bryce Harper is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 2010 he manifested his faith by writing a Biblical reference onto the athletic tape around his left wrist (2 Samuel 22:33-34), and having “Luke 1:37” inscribed onto his wooden bats in the spot usually reserved for a player’s name.

Against that backdrop, “The Last Natural” describes a 17-year-old with a strong faith that often remained hidden just out of sight.

“Harper never preached,” Miech wrote. “If I asked about his faith or the passage on his bat, he would talk about it. To tap into the heart of his convictions, Harper had to be pressed. Only after weeks of getting to know him, and his getting comfortable with me, did I ask him about his faith.

“By many accounts, Harper regularly attended Sunday church services with his mother and sister. He agreed with his grandfather that baseball would serve as his mission — unlike the two-year commitments, highly encouraged but not required by church elders — that many Mormons (undertake) in (their) late teens to early 20s.”

Harper's softer side

Some major media media outlets have portrayed Harper as a foul-mouthed jock with a huge ego surpassed in size only by his mammoth homers. Miech confirms Harper does swear like many baseball players. The author also vividly depicts a compassionate side to Harper's personality.

For example, Miech's book reveals an anecdote from the next-to-last day of Southern Nevada's season. As the rest of his team was warming up on the field, Harper sat in the dugout with coaches and other officials in order to take weight off of a painful ingrown toenail. When a mentally handicapped man approached the dugout and asked where he could get Bryce Harper's autograph, one of the officials sitting on the bench tried to do Harper a favor by telling the man Bryce was stretching in the outfield and thus unavailable.

Without skipping a beat, though, Harper hopped up and introduced himself to the man. After Bryce signed an autograph, the handicapped fan asked where he could get Bryan Harper's autograph. At that point Bryce jogged into the outfield, ingrown toenail and all, to secure his brother's autograph for the enthusiastic man.

Big numbers

Serendipitously for Miech, Harper absolutely dominated the competition while playing for Southern Nevada throughout the 2010 campaign. He smashed 31 home runs to set a school record (the previous mark was 12), and Harper also beat out every other college baseball player— even the guys playing in power conferences like the SEC and Pac-10 — for the Golden Spikes Award that annually honors the best amateur player in America.

The week after the 2010 college season ended, the Nationals selected Harper with the first pick in the MLB draft and subsequently signed him to a $9.9 million contract that included a $6.25 million signing bonus.

Thomas Dunne Books published "The Last Natural" on May 22. The book runs 365 pages, and is listed at $26.99.

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