PHOENIX – Kris Bryant doesn’t have any good stories about Bryce Harper flipping aluminum bats, or blowing kisses to parents in the stands, or getting thrown out of Little League games.
Or at least the Cubs third baseman didn’t want to share any with the reporters who swarmed his locker Sunday morning before a 4-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
But Bryant knows all about Harper after playing with and against the future Washington Nationals superstar while growing up in Las Vegas. On Memorial Day at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will be trying to slow down an unstoppable force.
“He knew he was good,” Bryant said. “That’s a good trait to have in this game. You got to go out there extremely confident – and he was confident. That helped him get to where he is today.
“Because he doesn’t care who is on the mound. He doesn’t care who the other team is. He’s always going to go out there and believe he’s better than the opponent. That’s something you need when you’re playing baseball.”
At the age of 22, Harper is actually younger than Bryant and has already made two All-Star teams and hit four postseason home runs in nine playoffs games. Bryant is making a push to win the National League Rookie of the Year award Harper earned in 2012, putting up an .861 OPS with five homers and 29 RBI through his first 34 games in The Show.
But Harper is on a completely different level, leading the NL in homers (16) and RBI (41), outperforming all major-league hitters with a 1.198 OPS and doing it for a World Series favorite.
“The thing that stands out to me is just how good he was – and how much better he was than the competition,” Bryant said. “He was like 11 years old and he was throwing like 80 miles an hour off the mound. It was special to see that from a guy that young.
“He’s obviously younger than me, but just watching him play, I was amazed. And I knew that he would be doing what he’s doing at this level someday, too.”
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Where Bryant decided to go to the University of San Diego – and methodically developed into the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft – Harper has been all about speed.
Harper made it onto the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Baseball’s Chosen One” in June 2009. He got his GED and went to a junior college before the Nationals selected him with the first pick in the 2010 draft.
“I wouldn’t say a rivalry,” Bryant said. “As a baseball player, you always want to be the best. And you look at the best and you want to be better than them. It was just a friendly competition – seeing what he’s doing, seeing what I’m doing and learning from each other.”
Harper – who’s also represented by super-agent Scott Boras – sent a message on his Twitter account while the Cubs did their service-time song-and-dance routine in spring training:
— Bryce Harper (@Bharper3407) March 14, 2015
“I did see that,” Bryant said. “Thanks for the support, Bryce.”