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Teen Phenom Bryce Harper Has Baseball Fans Buzzing
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Teen Phenom Bryce Harper Has Baseball Fans Buzzing

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Teen Phenom Bryce Harper Has Baseball Fans Buzzing

Teen Phenom Bryce Harper Has Baseball Fans Buzzing
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Baseball season is just around the corner and a teenage phenom has fans buzzing. Bryce Harper, 18, has drawing comparisons to greats like Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Junior and Alex Rodriguez. He was the number one draft pick last year by the Washington Nationals. This weekend, however, the Nationals shipped Harper back to the minors, saying he needed more preparation for the upcoming season. Sports writer Dave Sheinin profiled the young talent for this week's Washington Post magazine and discusses his career prospects with host Michel Martin.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, we will hear about superheroes on screen and off screen. That is later in the program.

But first, we open up the pages of The Washington Post magazine, something we do just about every week to find interesting stories about the way we live now. And while sports fans might be gloomy about the potential loss of the upcoming football season, due to that unresolved labor dispute between the owners and the players, today we have a story about a rising star in America's favorite pastime - baseball - that at least one sportswriter says will make you fall in love. Now, just who are we talking about here? Here's a hint from Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Mr. BUD SELIG (Commissioner, Major League Baseball): With the first selection in the first round of the 2010 first year player draft, the Washington Nationals select Bryce Harper.

(Soundbite of applause)

MARTIN: Bryce Harper is the subject of this week's Washington Post Magazine cover story. It was written by Post sports writer Dave Sheinin, and he's with us now from the studios at The Washington Post. Dave, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. DAVE SHEININ (Sportswriter): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Now, there was actually some news about Bryce Harper over the weekend. And I'm going to ask you to tell me about that. But first, I'm going to read this paragraph from your piece.

What if you knew in advance that the love of your life was coming your way? What if you knew his or her identity and the only thing still unknown was when it would happen? It's that way with Washington, or at least a segment of the metropolis that loves its sports teams and the stars who populate them. And Bryce Harper, trust us, is going to be silly, giddy, sloppy, head-over-heels love.

We tell you this now as a public service so you can prepare yourself for it. OK. I'm ready. Hit me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What am I going to fall in love with? I'm ready for it. It's spring.

Mr. SHEININ: Well, you know, the - you get these prodigies in sports that come along every once in a while and, you know, they either make it or they don't. But I think what I walked away feeling about Bryce Harper was that people were going to fall in love with the person, with the kid, with the work ethic, the personality. He's an extroverted kid who's got a lot of confidence. He's, you know, he's one of these - he's a talker. You know, that's another thing.

People are going to be able to connect with him, I think, through the media. You know, I didn't go into this story with any preconceived notions about the kid. I knew what he could do athletically, but I wanted to get inside, you know, his heart and his head. And that's what I walked away feeling, that people were just going to fall in love with this guy.

I think that he could end of being almost a Muhammad Ali-type of figure, where you know, he's so colorful, so quotable, so extroverted and arrogant in a good way, in a good athletic way, and I think he's going to fill up the pages of magazines and sports sections for many, many years.

MARTIN: And but when you say kid, you mean it. He's only, what, 18.

Mr. SHEININ: Yeah, he's 18 years old. He'd be a high school senior right now. He, you know, he went to the Sadie Hawkins dance at his high school right before he left for spring training in February. He would be going to his senior prom this next month if he were still there. So, yeah, we've got to remember how young he is. And really, baseball hasn't seen an 18-year-old make the big leagues in almost 20 years. So he's got a ways to go.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of that, general manager, Washington Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo announced that he will actually be going to play in Hagerstown in the minors to get some practice. He says he needs to go down to the minor leagues and get four or five at bats per game to prepare himself for the season, unquote. Big disappointment?

Mr. SHEININ: Well, I think, you know, it was for him, even though he probably deep down knew it was coming. Baseball is very different from the NBA. You don't have any 18, 19-year-olds going straight to the major leagues in baseball - pretty much ever. You know, if Babe Ruth himself showed up in the spring training camp today at the age of 18, he would still have to go to the minor leagues.

There's - it's not even so much the talent that has to manifest itself, it's just getting acclimated to what they call the everyday-ness of baseball -playing a 140-game schedule, getting up every day and going to the ballpark. It's just a very different lifestyle, and that's what the kids have to get used to more than, you know, hitting a big league curveball.

MARTIN: Now, you know, a lot of people who follow sports either in Washington, who follow the teams here, might remember that this time last year the buzz was around a young pitching phenom, Stephen Strasburg, who ended up sustaining an injury just a couple of months after he started. And so, what's the deal? Are the Washington teams cursed? Or what's the deal with that? I mean, have you also cursed this guy just by telling everybody how much we're going to be in love with him and how he's going to save us?

Mr. SHEININ: Right. Right. Well...

MARTIN: It's your fault, basically.

Mr. SHEININ: Exactly. I mean, it's that famous Washington Post magazine cover jinx, I guess. You know, I don't know that Washington teams are jinxed as much as, you know, they've dealt with some bad management for a long time, and I think the Nationals are turning a corner where you could say, you know, you see the makings of a contender. I think 2012 could be very interesting for them if Stephen Strasburg comes back from his elbow surgery and if Bryce Harper, you know, hits his way to the big leagues within a year. I think things could be really interesting for the Nationals.

MARTIN: And finally, before we let you go, one of the - you obviously fell in love with Bryce Harper and you think the rest of us are going to. But one of the things you fell in love with is his family. You feel very strongly that he came from kind of a solid family background that, you know, had a lot to do with giving him the foundation for success. Tell me why you think that.

Mr. SHEININ: Well, I just - you could just tell when somebody has been parented right, and I think that as a father of two young children myself, I've taken a very keen interest in this and maybe have an eye that I wouldn't have had a few years ago. But I can just tell when, especially as much time as I spent with the family, I could just tell how well parented he is and I think that, you know, as anyone with children will tell you, that is such a challenge and maybe the most important thing in a person's development, is how they were parented. And I guess I would just say that this kid was parented right.

MARTIN: Well, one of the things you also point out is his dad is an ironworker, a veteran ironworker, and would take his son as a very young kid out with him on jobs. And when he would get tired, he'd say, well, you know what? We still got eight hours to go out here. Deal with it. Strap it on. Get it done. So let's see if he can keep that work ethic and that stamina through the season.

Dave Sheinin is a sportswriter for The Washington Post. His piece is titled "Bryce Harper: A Prodigy Arrives." No hype there. It's in this week's Washington Post magazine. If you'd like to read it in its entirety, and we hope you will, we'll have a link to it on our website. Just go to NPR.org, click on the Programs tab and then on TELL ME MORE. Dave Sheinin was with us from the Post's studios. Dave, thanks so much.

Mr. SHEININ: Thanks for having me.

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