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Bryce and Bryan Harper: Brothers, best friends and baseball

Bryce and Bryan Harper: Brothers, best friends and baseball

The similarities between Bryce and Bryan Harper are there if you look for them. They share a resemblance in the face, and their voices are close enough that you might mistake them for each other over the phone.

At 6-foot-5, Bryan is noticeably taller. He's also leaner, having lost 20 pounds over the offseason, a change he attributes to helping him raise his fastball velocity from 86-87 miles per hour to 89-90.

The lefty reliever and older brother of Bryce has been a force in the minors this season, boasting a 1.44 ERA through 21 appearances, 20 of them with the Harrisburg Senators in the Double-A Eastern League. He's held opposing batters to a .141 average with 21 strikeouts in 25 innings and has six saves in seven opportunities. 

Those numbers earned him a promotion on Monday to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will continue working towards his dream of making the big leagues. 

"I think I had a really solid offseason. I worked my butt off to lose a little bit of weight. I think that really helped," Bryan explained. "It's kept me loose and free and my arm can work the way it's naturally supposed to work."

Harper, 26, has held right-handers to a .180 BAA through 55 plate appearances, lefties are hitting just .085 with a .226 OPS in 37 PAs.

"They've put me in good situations to succeed and I've been fortunate enough to do the job and have a good time so far," he said.

With Bryce playing every day with the Nationals, Bryan stays up to date by looking at his game logs. When Bryce follows Bryan, he often looks beyond the box score.

"We talk almost every day," Bryce said. "I really think if you're throwing strikes and pounding the strike zone, if his slider is down in the zone and his changeup is down in the zone and if his heater's moving a little bit, then it's all good."

As kids in Las Vegas, NV, Bryce always looked up to Bryan. Now he's above him in the Nationals' organization as a big leaguer and, as one of the game's best hitters, can share advice and tips as a professional at dismantling opposing pitchers. He's also worked with him many times as a former catcher.

"Growing up, it was more of me just wanting to be like him. Now it's more how I can help him and how he can help me and that's something we look forward to," Bryce said. "The older we've gotten, the more and more I'm able to help him and talk to him about his path to the big leagues and how he's doing in the minors."

It's a role reversal of sorts, as Bryce learned so much from Bryan throughout his childhood.

"Growing up having Bryan as my older brother, he was always so competitive in everything we played. If that was basketball or football or baseball, or anything. I wanted to be like him. That's why I'm a left-handed hitter. I wanted to throw left-handed, but I couldn't. I was terrible at throwing left-handed, so I stuck to right-handed," Bryce explained.

"All I wanted to do was be like him. I wanted to wear the same clothes, I wanted to drive the same car, I wanted to hang out with all of his friends. He'd get so mad because I always wanted to go out and hang out with his friends and I'm a frickin' eighth grader or freshman. He was like 'what are you doing, why are you coming to hang out with me?'"

Bryan remembers those days and how their relationship has changed over the years since then.

"I'm a junior in high school and I'm trying to obviously do my own thing. I'm 17 years old and he's a little eighth grader," Bryan recalled. 

"I want to get away from my family at that point like any other 17 or 18 year old kid. He was trying to tag along. I think that's just a brotherly thing. Once we both went into college, we played together and we became best friends. We're still best friends to this day."

Bryan thinks Bryce always playing sports with older kids growing up may have helped him become the athlete he is today. When playing with older competition, he was often the smallest kid on the court or the field.

"I think that's definitely really helped," Bryan said. "With me and Bryce being in baseball together, I've looked at other brothers. The Maddux brothers, Mike and Greg. Mike was a great pitcher and he's a great pitching coach now for us, but Greg is a Hall of Famer... Bryce is just one of those freak athletes that it worked out where he was always tagging along with me. He had to keep up otherwise he was going to be left behind."

During Bryce's acceptance speech for the 2015 NL MVP award last year, the 23-year-old tearfully thanked his family, singling out his parents, Ron and Sheri, and his siblings, Bryan and his sister, Britt.

Bryan explained how that moment was a reflection of their upbringing.

"I think that's what my dad always preached to us. Blood is thicker than water," he said. 

"That was the thing growing up, look out for your family members. That's from my dad. He came from a really strong family with his brothers and sisters. He came from a broken home, his parents were divorced and stuff like that. But his brothers and sisters, they were really close because they had to be."

After one year as teammates at the College of Southern Nevada, the Harpers went their separate ways. Bryce was drafted by the Nationals with the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. He was off to the Arizona Fall League later that year and then Hagerstown and Harrisburg the next summer.

Bryan transferred to the University of South Carolina for the 2011 season. He played one year with the Gamecocks and won the College World Series under legendary coach Ray Tanner and alongside Red Sox star Jackie Bradley, Jr.

It was an experience Bryan feels fortunate to have been a part of. And it's something that has helped shape Bryce's perspective as an MLB superstar.

"Being 19 in the big leagues is something that I was able to do," Bryce said. "But he took a different path. He was able to go to college and win a national championship. He was able to go to football games at South Carolina. Those memories will never be taken away from him. I'm a little jealous about that part because it's something I would have really enjoyed."

"You know he's always been jealous of that," Bryan said. "That's one thing he always wanted. He always talked growing up about going to [the University of] Texas. He always wanted to be a Longhorn because he just loved everything about it: the burnt orange, the uniforms."

Bryan pitched one week at Triple-A Syracuse last summer before beginning this season in Double-A. Now he's back with the Chiefs and again just one step away from reaching the major leagues

His path to the majors isn't clear quite yet with three lefties already in the Nats' bullpen, and others in the minor leagues like Matt Grace, Aaron Laffey and Nick Lee all showing promise. But Bryan Harper's performance this season has already earned him one promotion and he certainly appears to be on the right track to another.

"The minor leagues are a grind. I know a lot of people say that, but there's a lot of people that don't truly understand and actually do it," Bryan said. "As long as I go about it the right way I can hopefully get an opportunity to prove myself."

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Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

Its Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

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Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

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USA Today Sports Images

Nationals Spring Training Schedule 2018

Now that pitchers and catchers have reported, the next step in our long journey to Opening Day is the spring training games themselves. Not every game is televised, so get ready to follow along with your favorite beat writer's Twitter account for all your updates.

Even without getting to watch the games, it'll still be exciting to once again check box scores in the morning to see if Bryce Harper homered again, or if Max Scherzer is perfect through 4 innings (spoiler: both of these will happen).

This year's spring training will be especially interesting, considering how many big-name players will be signing contracts in the next few weeks. The Nats are always willing to make a big splash, and even beyond the available free agents, have been linked to impact players like J.T. Realmuto in trade rumors.

Typically, the excitement of adding a new piece to the roster has to be reignited after a long winter off, but this season, those additions will be happening while camp is already underway.

It's going to be a hectic few weeks as teams prepare for their seasons, so bookmark this page to check on the Nationals spring training schedule over the next few weeks as the team finally takes the field in 2018.

Nationals 2018 Spring Training Schedule

Friday, Feb. 23 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Saturday, Feb. 24 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Feb. 25 - Braves at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Feb. 26 - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Feb. 27 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 28 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 1 (SS) - Nationals at Braves, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 2 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Saturday, Mar. 3 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Tigers at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 4 (SS) - Nationals at Mets, 1:10 pm
Monday, Mar. 5 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 6 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Wednesday, Mar. 7 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Thursday, Mar. 8 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 10 - Nationals at Astros, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 11 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Monday, Mar. 12 - Nationals at Tigers, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 13 (SS) - Mets at Nationals, 7:05 pm (MLBN) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 15 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Friday, Mar. 16 (SS) - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MASN)
Saturday, Mar. 17 - Mets at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 18 - Nationals at Cardinals, 1:05 pm
Monday, Mar. 19 - Nationals at Marlins, 1:05 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 20 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Wednesday, Mar. 21 - Astros at Nationals, 1:05 pm (ESPN2) (MASN)
Thursday, Mar. 22 - Nationals at Mets, 6:10 pm
Friday, Mar. 23 (SS) - Astros at Nationals, 6:05 pm (MASN)
Friday, Mar. 23 - Nationals at Marlins, 7:05 pm
Saturday, Mar. 24 - Marlins at Nationals, 1:05 pm
Sunday, Mar. 25 - Cardinals at Nationals, 1:05 pm (MLBN)
Tuesday, Mar. 27 (at Nationals Park) - Twins at Nationals, 4:05 pm