WASHINGTON - : Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals takes batting practice at Nationals Park. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Remember what it feels like right now. Breathe the air. Remember what the food tastes like. Appreciate it. At some point soon, you’ll have to form an opinion about Bryce Harper.
Right now, Harper is just a name, a prospect. A hyped prospect, sure, but for good reason. He’s 18, and he’s tearing up the South Atlantic League. He’s as good as advertised, and he’ll be a major league player for a long time. So get ready. Because he’s annoying. Or he’s delightfully mischievous. Or he’s a terrible human being. Or he’s Baseball’s Greatest Hero. You’ll need to decide (oh, and pretending you don’t care is still an opinion). Remember how the country was torn apart on the subject of Barry Bonds?
This might be just as divisive, tearing the country in two. There’s some initial evidence to help you get started on what your opinion on Harper might be. First, there’s the war paint:
He doesn’t do that anymore. But he did. By choice. Maybe that's the only thing you need to know about a man. Except there’s another answer for it than just, "Hey, look at meeeee!" There’s the irony factor. Maybe Harper put it on for a goof and said, "Wow, this is ridiculous." Another player might have dared him to wear it in a game, and it snowballed from there. Harper might be some jock/hipster cross-pollinated strain that threatens to amuse us all.
That could also explain the mustache:
Again, two possible scenarios. One is, "I’m Bryce Harper, and I have a mustache because I’m rad. Pull over." The other is, "I’m Bryce Harper. Isn’t this thing ridiculous? I think so. I don’t take myself that seriously. Let’s play two!" You probably have a pretty good idea which one it is. A really, really, really good idea. But we don’t know yet. Not for sure
The big story today is the kiss. After standing and watching a home run in the time it takes to ferment an apple, Harper ran around the bases and gave a phantom smooch to the pitcher after rounding third. Again, we’re starting to see a pattern. The paint plus the mustache plus the kiss sort of makes you think that Harper is a parishioner of the Church of Bryce Harper, and that he’s willing to go door-to-door, handing out leaflets, and asking if you’ve heard the good Word.
But in a very, very specific context, a smooch like that can be funny. If the pitcher was especially vocal before the game -- crossing all sorts of lines with remarks about family, or something similar -- a little air peck is a pretty good "gotcha." We don’t know what the pitcher said before the incident. There are meatheads everywhere, and sometimes nature isn’t kind enough to let us know exactly who they are with mustaches or face paint. Maybe the pitcher deserved it.
Maybe. But it's more likely that Harper is probably just a brash, unbearable, once-in-a-generation talent -- a fascinating combination that will get tiresome after about two months. He’s going to come up and be LeBron crossed with A-Rod and birthed by Lady Gaga. There are going to be haters. There are going to be defenders. There are going to be people who pretend not to care. Remember what it was like before he came up, when your day was filled with thoughts of John Lackey and Wilson Valdez.
Storm’s a comin’. Should be fun until it isn’t.