The first two chapters of Bryce Harper’s baseball career unfolded in Las Vegas and Washington, and the third chapter, which promises to be the longest, is just underway with the Phillies. This story is a look back at Harper’s almost mythical youth and his sometimes turbulent seven seasons with the Nationals. It’s also a look ahead to what we might see from the six-time all-star outfielder over the next 13 seasons with the Phillies.

LAS VEGAS — Sam Thomas’ first memory of Bryce Harper is two decades old now. Thomas, the baseball coach at Las Vegas High School, was running a youth camp, and there was a blond 6-year-old boy who stood out.

Not because he could hit the ball a desert mile. That part would come later. Oh, sure, the talent was evident even then. At an age when most kids learn to hit off a tee, Harper was already playing baseball with the big kids, including his older brother, Bryan.

“The thing that made him stand out to me was that he was so energetic with everything he did,” Thomas said. “You always have kids that are people pleasers. But Bryce at that age wanted to do everything, and he had a way about him that said, ‘I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it better than everyone.’ That’s an age where you’re happy if you can get a kid to wear catcher’s gear. He wore it like a second skin.”

Bryce Harper played catcher as a kid and through college.
Isaac Brekken / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bryce Harper played catcher as a kid and through college.

Thomas and Harper would not meet again for another six years, but word of mouth around the Las Vegas baseball community kept the coach informed about the can’t-sit-still kid. By then, he had also emerged as the can’t-miss kid. The legend of Bryce Harper was growing with each passing year.

“He obviously succeeded in the travel-ball world, and I just kept hearing things about him,” Thomas said. “By the time Bryce was 12, you were hearing a lot of things.”

By the time Bryce was 12, Bryan was already playing for Thomas at Las Vegas High. Bryan was a special talent in his own right — a long, lanky left-handed pitcher who was drafted three times before finally signing with Washington as a 30th-round pick in 2011. That was one year after the Nationals had taken Bryce with the first overall selection.

“Bryan was awesome,” Thomas said. “I keep hoping he’ll get signed. I think he was close to being called up [by the Nationals] a few years ago when he went down and had to have Tommy John surgery. Bryce and his brother are each other’s biggest fans, and they treat each other like co-workers. I think it would be tough to find two siblings closer than them.”

Bryce Harper confirms that notion when he says his best memory at Las Vegas High was catching his brother. Bryan was a senior, Bryce a freshman. You can see Bryan play this season, too. He signed on March 22 to pitch with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League.

Sam Thomas coached Bryan Harper in high school, and then Bryce a few years later.
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Sam Thomas coached Bryan Harper in high school, and then Bryce a few years later.

The legend of the 570-foot homer

Thomas, as you might expect, has a lot of great stories about Harper, who became a larger-than-life figure as a teenage catcher in this desert town known for its glitz, glamour, and gambling. One of the first came when Harper was still in eighth grade.

“We used to have a practice season that started in October, and then we’d have a red-and-black scrimmage during the Christmas break,” Thomas said, referring to the Las Vegas High colors. “The team that wins gets to keep the other team’s shirt.

"Two senior captains picked the teams, and one of the senior captains kept asking if Bryce could play when he was still in eighth grade. We let him play. Bryce was the first pick. I wouldn’t be lying to you if I told you that Bryce was the best player on the field in eighth grade.”

Thomas’ favorite memory of Harper came a year later, and it was simply a commitment from the kid to play at his school.

“Every private school in this area was calling him,” Thomas said. “When I heard Bryce was coming to Las Vegas High School, I felt like I had won the lottery.”

The legend was about to grow some more. Some of the stories are so extraordinary that they border on being Bunyanesque. One, in particular, is the 570-foot home run Harper hit as a 15-year-old freshman.

No one denies that Harper hit a home run that day against Canyon Springs High School. And no one denies that he hit it far.

It had to have been a majestic sight because anything that travels beyond the right-field and center-field fences at what is now named Harper Field is framed by Frenchman Mountain in Nevada’s Clark County.

Frenchman Mountain frames the mythical 570-foot home run Harper hit as a 15-year-old freshman at Las Vegas High School in 2008.
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Frenchman Mountain frames the mythical 570-foot home run Harper hit as a 15-year-old freshman at Las Vegas High School in 2008.

The house where Harper grew up is a few blocks beyond the left-field fence in an unassuming working-class neighborhood that is far from the famous Las Vegas Strip in both distance and reputation. Harper Field itself is a beautifully manicured ballpark with a grand entrance that includes a black gate partially constructed with some of Harper’s used Marucci bats.

“As soon as he hit that home run, I turned to my pitching coach and said, ‘Holy blank,’ ” Thomas said. “I really had no idea how far it went. Nobody else did either.”

The location, according to Thomas, was marked by rocks placed at the ball’s landing spot by Jim Brooks, Harper’s maternal grandfather. A few months later, two of Thomas’ assistant coaches took a measuring wheel and hiked from home plate past five lanes of traffic on South Hollywood Boulevard and out to the location where the baseball landed just to the right of Clark County Fire Station No. 31.

Thomas declined to make the trip with his assistant coaches, but he was eager to learn how far the ball traveled. He initially thought his assistant had told him the ball went 517 feet. But then the coach repeated that it was actually 570 feet from home plate to where the ball had landed.

Shortly after that story was repeated in a June 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated that had Harper on the cover at the age of 16, Thomas said he got a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter.

“The guy told me it was physically impossible to hit a ball that far,” the coach said. “I told him I didn’t measure it, and I didn’t know for sure. But he was so bent out of shape, and finally I said, ‘Listen, there’s a hill behind where my coaches went to. It could have actually gone farther and rolled back.’ I don’t know if it was less or more. I don’t know where it landed. I’m just going by where it ended up.”

Bryce Harper's high-school baseball field is now known as Harper Field. Used bats were incorporated into the entrance gate.
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Bryce Harper's high-school baseball field is now known as Harper Field. Used bats were incorporated into the entrance gate.

That was Harper’s longest home run, but it was not the last to reach the five-lane highway that runs parallel to the right-field fence at his high school ballpark. Thomas said cars were often in danger of being dinged whenever Harper took batting practice.

“I always tell our administrators not to bother me when we’re practicing, and they are great about it,” Thomas said. “But one day our assistant principal came up and stood behind the backstop, and he would not leave. I’m throwing BP and ignoring him, and he won’t leave. So finally I stop. I look at him and go, ‘What?’ He says, ‘Come here, I need to talk to you.’ ”

Thomas feared that one of his players had done something bad.

“What’s the matter?” he asked the assistant principal.

“I have a city bus driver in my office right now, and he’s telling me that your kids have been throwing baseballs at his bus,” the assistant principal said.

“Did you explain to him that Bryce was hitting?” Thomas asked.

“I tried to, but he won’t believe me,” the assistant principal said.

“We probably should have stopped traffic when he was hitting,” Thomas said.

Bryce and his brother, Bryan, are honored on the left-field fence. Traffic behind the right-field fence probably wanted to avoid the area when Bryce was taking batting practice.
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Bryce and his brother, Bryan, are honored on the left-field fence. Traffic behind the right-field fence probably wanted to avoid the area when Bryce was taking batting practice.

Occasionally, Thomas still gets to marvel at Harper’s power up close because the Phillies’ new right fielder stops by the high school with his father, Ron, and the pair go through hitting drills.

“Two years ago, he sat behind a screen and fed Bryce soft-toss pitches,” Thomas said of Ron. “He hit a ball at the top of that big tree that sits beyond the center-field fence. It was soft toss with a wood bat.”

The Boras Corporation arrives

Former major-leaguer Kurt Stillwell, an assistant to high-profile agent Scott Boras, first heard the name Bryce Harper while watching a game at San Diego State University.

“It’s our job to help Scott find prospects,” Stillwell said. “So I’m standing and watching this game, and I hear the name Bryce Harper. A few days later, I hear it again. The same week, I hear it a third time. I hear a name enough times and I’m going to investigate. Three times is usually the magic number.”

Stillwell had a high school teammate from Southern California named Richard Collins who lived in Las Vegas and knew the Harper family. Stillwell flew to Las Vegas with fellow Boras assistant Scott Chiamparino to watch Harper play and meet the teenager’s family.

“His first at-bat, he struck out. But it was still a ‘wow’ moment,” Stillwell said. “You could see this was a man-child at 15. His bat speed was already ridiculously good.”

Stillwell spotted Harper’s mother, Sheri, sitting in a camping chair that day.

“Definitely a baseball mom,” Stillwell said. “She knew the lingo, and she kept telling Bryce to battle and stay up the middle.”

Bryce Harper is joined by his dad, Ron (left), mom, Sheri (right) and wife Kayla after being introduced at the Phillies' spring-training complex on March 2. Harper's family has been by his side for the entirety of his baseball journey.
Lynne Sladky / AP
Bryce Harper is joined by his dad, Ron (left), mom, Sheri (right) and wife Kayla after being introduced at the Phillies' spring-training complex on March 2. Harper's family has been by his side for the entirety of his baseball journey.

Stillwell and Chiamparino were equally impressed by Ron, an iron worker, and overwhelmed by what they saw from the kid. Stillwell called Boras.

“Kurt was rather nervous,” Boras said. “He said, ‘I need you to come see this kid right away.’ I have a rule that I have to put my eyes on all our players before we will make commitments. Kurt said this is kind of an unusual case because the kid is only 14 years old. My staff likes to play jokes on me. I thought this was one of them.”

Boras, after being assured this was no joke, obliged and flew to Las Vegas.

“The first pitch I saw he hit an opposite-field bomb,” Boras said. “The next day, they walked him four times. The day after that, they walked him five times.”

Boras was about to hatch a plan for Harper’s future that would make the teenager from Las Vegas eligible for college baseball after his sophomore season in high school and for the major-league draft four months before his 18th birthday.

“He was too good for high school baseball at that age,” Stillwell said. “One day I was watching, and he hit a line drive past the shortstop, and the kid never reacted. He never saw it. Somebody was going to get hurt if he kept playing at that level. And the combination of Scott and Mr. Harper worked hard to make something happen.”

Scott Boras (right) thought the idea of someone so young being so talented was a joke. It wasn't. He hatched a plan to have Bryce Harper erady for the major-league draft four months before Harper's 18th birthday.
Lynne Sladky / AP
Scott Boras (right) thought the idea of someone so young being so talented was a joke. It wasn't. He hatched a plan to have Bryce Harper erady for the major-league draft four months before Harper's 18th birthday.

Boras persuaded Ron and Sheri to let Bryce take a GED test after his sophomore year of high school, and then they enrolled him at the College of Southern Nevada in Henderson, a 25-minute drive from the Harper family home. Bryan also transferred there after pitching his freshman season at Cal State Northridge.

“The draft rules were changing, and he was not going to be eligible for the draft for three years,” Boras said of Harper. “They were walking him to death. We told him there would be no junior prom or senior prom, but high school baseball was not going to reward him anymore.”

Thomas understood.

“After talking to his parents, I was in full support,” the coach said. “You have to be because I’m not the guy who was going to get him to the big leagues. This was about him proving he had the ability to go and play junior-college baseball at the age of 17.”

The best player in college baseball at 17

The excitement on the College of Southern Nevada campus was palpable. Sean Larimer was a 21-year-old graduate assistant at the school when head coach Tim Chambers told him that Bryce Harper would be attending CSN for the 2010 season.

“B.S.” was Larimer’s reaction.

“Honest,” Chambers told Larimer. “They found a loophole. He’s getting his GED.”

Larimer, who already had a bit of a friendship with Bryce and Bryan Harper, can recount what happened during that 2010 season as if it were yesterday. Oh, yes, and the legend of Bryce Harper was about to grow some more.

“It was pretty magical,” Larimer said. “To be honest with you, when I look back on it, I took for granted what we were watching. Just to think about sitting in this dugout right next to Bryce and what we were witnessing from a 17-year-old kid, it was something.”

Bryce Harper was supposed to be a junior in high school when he won the award for best player in all of college baseball.
Isaac Brekken / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bryce Harper was supposed to be a junior in high school when he won the award for best player in all of college baseball.

The story of Harper’s 570-foot home run would be trumped by the number of dingers he hit during his one season of Division I junior-college baseball. Using a wood bat, Harper set a school record and led the nation with 31 home runs in 66 games and 228 at-bats. He won the Golden Spikes Award as the best player in all of college baseball. He was supposed to be a junior in high school.

“The thing I appreciate most now when I look back on it is how much pressure he was under, and you never saw it,” Larimer said. “He had played for Team USA the summer prior to coming to us, and when he came to school that fall everyone was on eggshells. But after the first scrimmage he was just another guy.”

For that, Larimer credits Chambers and Bryan Harper.

“I think Bryan being here was a huge help for Bryce,” Larimer said. “He was the buffer. You knew he was the older brother who would protect him.”

Sean Larimer has been coaching at College of Southern Nevada since Bryce Harper showed up as a 17-year-old. Harper's brother, Bryan, came too, and Larimer credits his older brother's presence as a key to Bryce's success.
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Sean Larimer has been coaching at College of Southern Nevada since Bryce Harper showed up as a 17-year-old. Harper's brother, Bryan, came too, and Larimer credits his older brother's presence as a key to Bryce's success.

Chambers, meanwhile, made it clear that all the players at CSN should welcome Harper with open arms for one simple reason.

“In one of his first team meetings, Coach Chambers sent Bryce down the right-field line, and he addressed the rest of the team,” Larimer said. “His message was this: All Bryce can do by being here is help you. He is going to bring attention upon you in a very positive way.”

Harper’s presence meant that a lot of professional scouts and front-office types would be watching the College of Southern Nevada that season, and his words proved prophetic.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there were 11 guys drafted off that team,” Larimer said. “It was one of the highest totals ever from a junior-college team.”

And it became a truly special season not just for Harper but the entire College of Southern Nevada team.

The bleachers at the College of Southern Nevada's field are made from sandstone.
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The bleachers at the College of Southern Nevada's field are made from sandstone.

Harper led the team with a .443 batting average, 98 RBIs, and a ridiculous 1.513 OPS. In addition to the big-league talent evaluators, crowds actually started showing up at William R. Morse Stadium, a ballpark that features 132 blue seats and sandstone bleachers made by Native Americans behind the backstop.

Harper’s retired No. 34 jersey now hangs on an outfield wall next to his former head coach Chambers’ No. 6. Chambers also benefited from Harper’s one-year stay at CSN. The following season he became the head coach at Division I Nevada-Las Vegas.

Bryce Harper's number hangs in the outfield of the College of Southern Nevada's baseball field alongside his junior-college coach's, Tim Chambers.
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Bryce Harper's number hangs in the outfield of the College of Southern Nevada's baseball field alongside his junior-college coach's, Tim Chambers.

The College of Southern Nevada made it to the 2010 Junior College World Series, where Harper was brilliant, controversial, and polarizing. The last of those three words — polarizing — was one Larimer used several times to describe his friend.

“That year, there were umpires who had it out for him, opposing teams that would try to get under his skin because they knew who he was, and fans who would say stuff about him,” Larimer said. “But the 27 guys in our dugout would have kicked the crap out of anyone to protect him.”

In the final game of the Western District playoffs, Harper went 6-for-6 with a double, four home runs, and 10 RBIs in a 25-11 win over Central Arizona. But his junior-college career ended prematurely 11 days later when he was ejected from a World Series game for drawing a line in the batter’s box after being called out on a third strike by home-plate umpire Don Gilmore.

He could not play the next day when CSN was eliminated because it had been his second ejection of the season, which also called for a two-game suspension.

“When we lost, he was heartbroken,” Larimer said. “When he got back to the clubhouse, he didn’t want to leave. He knew he was about to go into the real world, and he was upset that the season he just had with our group was over. When we got home from Grand Junction after the JUCO World Series, the first thing he did was go into our clubhouse and sign his locker. Next to his name, he wrote, ‘Always a Coyote.’ "

The spot where Bryce Harper signed his name in the College of Southern Nevada locker room is gone.
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The spot where Bryce Harper signed his name in the College of Southern Nevada locker room is gone.

Harper also left some dents in his tiny locker from the few times he did not have a good day during his one season of junior-college baseball. The bat damage remains visible. Harper’s locker room autograph and declaration that he would be a Coyote forever are gone.

“The cleaning people power washed it off,” said Nick Garritano, the current College of Southern Nevada head coach who took over after Harper’s one season. “It was the coolest recruiting tool in the world. We’d say, ‘Hey, you want to see something awesome that no other college can show you? Look at this right here. That’s his signature. That’s his locker.' ”

Now all the Coyotes have is the Harper story and, rest assured, they use that on the recruiting trail. CSN is ranked third in the nation with a 27-4 record.

“He is the face of CSN baseball,” Garritano said. “He is the greatest that ever played here, and he’ll always be the greatest to ever play here. There won’t be another Bryce.”

Harper helped lead the Coyotes to the Junior College World Series in 2010.
Isaac Brekken / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Harper helped lead the Coyotes to the Junior College World Series in 2010.

Though Garritano never coached Harper, he did coach against him during his final season as the head coach at Green Valley High School in Las Vegas.

“It was the playoffs to win the Sunrise Region championship,” Garritano said. “In the third inning, he hit a ball that hit the apartments in left-center field.

"Two innings later, he comes up with runners on first and second, and we were up, 11-5. I intentionally walked him because I wanted no parts of him changing the momentum of that game. We were at their place, and if you could have heard their fans you would have thought you were back in Philly. They were going crazy, calling me every name in the book. I can’t repeat the bad words that were coming out.

"He was honestly the Babe Ruth of high school baseball, and then he’d go out on the mound and throw 95 miles per hour at 16 years old.”

College of Southern Nevada head coach Nick Garritano still uses Harper's name to recruit players to his school.
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College of Southern Nevada head coach Nick Garritano still uses Harper's name to recruit players to his school.

‘That’s how Vegas is’

What comes across most clearly from all of the people associated with Harper as a teenage phenom is how much they love him.

Larimer starts to tear up a little when he tells the story of his friend, Matty Cutt, the CSN team manager with Down syndrome who celebrated his birthday in the Coyotes’ home clubhouse last month. CSN baseball posted the tweet, and Harper retweeted it.

“In my experience, it has never been about him,” Larimer said. “Any flak he gets at times, we here know who the true person is. For me and for our program here, and I’m sure Coach Thomas is the same way, we’re always going to be here to help him. We’re never going to ask for anything. We just want him to feel like this is always a safe place for him to come back and hit. We want him to come out and feel at home, and the same thing goes for his dad and brother.”

Thomas said he feels the same way.

“When he’s comfortable around you, he is the most personable and fun-loving person you will ever meet,” the coach said. “He is the most respectful kid, and it actually hurts me when I hear stuff on the radio or hear how people have judged him on what they see without knowing him. It’s absolutely so wrong.”

The love and support from Harper’s hometown is appreciated.

“That’s where I grew up,” Harper said near the end of spring training. “Coach Thomas is like a dad to me. He does not just want his kids to be good ballplayers. He wants them to be good grown men, good husbands, good fathers, and he wants to mold those guys into those kinds of people. It’s bigger than baseball with Coach Thomas and it was the same thing at CSN.

It’s a great place to grow up. It’s a hard place to group up but a great place to grow up.
Bryce Harper on Las Vegas

“The guys I was around at CSN are always right there for me. I think that’s just how Vegas is. It’s a very close-knit town, especially east Las Vegas.

"Coach Thomas had so many opportunities to go other places, and he probably could have won a state championship with the best players in the state of Nevada. But he always stayed because he knew he was going to get kids from lower-middle-class families who would work hard and play hard for him. You’d run through a wall for him.

"You talk to anyone who is from there, and it really, really means something. It’s a great place to grow up. It’s a hard place to group up but a great place to grow up.”

Las Vegas High School's Harper Field is far from the glitzy Strip the desert city is known for.
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Las Vegas High School's Harper Field is far from the glitzy Strip the desert city is known for.

The Nats promote Harper at 19

The second chapter of Harper’s baseball life was far more challenging.

Boras, of course, succeeded in getting his young prodigy into the draft a year early, and the Washington Nationals, with the first overall pick for the second straight year, selected Harper. Just before the August deadline that would have sent Harper back into the draft, the Nationals and Boras agreed to a five-year deal worth $9.9 million.

That gave Harper set-for-life money before his 18th birthday. He responded by hitting .343 with seven RBIs in nine games in the Arizona Fall League that November.

His career as a catcher was over. He was now an outfielder, playing left, center, and right field as an 18-year-old at low-A Hagerstown, Md., in the South Atlantic League and double-A Harrisburg in the Eastern League. In the spring of his second professional season, the debate was on about when the 19-year-old would be ready for the big leagues.

When he was 18, Bryce Harper was playing in the South Atlantic League for the Nationals affiliate Hagerstown (Md.) Suns.
Timothy Jacobsen / ASSOCIATED PRESS
When he was 18, Bryce Harper was playing in the South Atlantic League for the Nationals affiliate Hagerstown (Md.) Suns.

Davey Johnson, the Nationals manager at the time, pushed for sooner rather than later.

“Davey didn’t care about his age or his inexperience,” said Jayson Werth, the former Phillies right fielder who was in his second season with the Nationals when Harper was called to the big leagues for an April 28, 2012, debut at Dodger Stadium.

Not everyone agreed with the manager.

“There was a lot of back and forth about whether he was ready,” Werth said. “He had been hurt some and didn’t play that great at Harrisburg, but you knew he had tons of talent. And it was Bryce Harper, so a lot of stuff comes along with that.

"Let’s face it, when Bryce was younger he was kind of a knothead. Here’s this young punk kid with a lot of clout, and I think it seemed to some of us that he was a little bit over-hyped. I think the sense was that he just wasn’t ready. He was just a kid, a child.”

Jayson Werth said that Bryce Harper could be a bit of a "knothead" at a young age.
Julio Cortez / AP
Jayson Werth said that Bryce Harper could be a bit of a "knothead" at a young age.

Johnson won the debate, and all eyes were on Harper as he made his major-league debut against Chad Billingsley. In his third at-bat, Harper lined a double off the top of the center-field wall. Two innings later, he delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Nationals a 2-1 lead. Washington lost in extra innings that evening, but Harper had earned instant credibility with his skeptical teammates.

“Literally, no crap, the rest is history,” Werth said. “He did that, and it was like, ‘OK, he’s here to stay.’ He was one of the guys who ignited the team that year.

"The Nats weren’t expected to do much in that 2012 season. The Phillies were the team that had been on top for so long, and the Nats were almost still the Expos. And then we rattled off almost 100 wins and won the division, and from then on it was our division to lose every year.”

Bryce Harper's debut with the Nationals changed expectations for the franchise.
Mark J. Terrill / AP
Bryce Harper's debut with the Nationals changed expectations for the franchise.

Harper, whose Baseball-Reference career WAR of 27.4 ranks 10th on the Expos-Nationals franchise list, was the National League rookie of the year in 2012, hitting .270 with 26 doubles, nine triples, and 22 home runs. But he still had to endure growing pains in the clubhouse.

“He had a lot of growing up to do from that day until now,” Werth said. “He started out as an outsider. You couldn’t even take him to dinner because he wasn’t old enough for half the places.

"In a lot of ways, Bryce kept to himself. What you see on the field isn’t really him, and in a lot of ways we’re all like that. You put your cape on and go out and play, and then when you’re done you take your costume off, and you become yourself again.

“Off the field, he is an easy-going guy. As he got older, he became one of the guys. He started to fit in and become more relaxed, and that was pretty cool to see. No one will ever have the path he had to the big leagues. His situation was unique, and my last year there he was a guy you could set your watch on.”

No one will ever have the path he had to the big leagues.
Jayson Werth on Bryce Harper

Harper’s most memorable Nationals moment to Phillies fans came in late September 2015 when he got into a verbal altercation in the dugout that turned physical with former Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. Harper had not run out a ground ball, and Papelbon called him out on it.

Werth said that incident was long forgotten in Washington.

“I don’t think it’s fair to hold anyone accountable for a handful of plays in their career,” Werth said. “No one outside of Cal Ripken Jr. gave 110 percent on every play. The people in Philadelphia will have a good long look at Bryce, and they’ll be able to make a fair assessment. I know they’ll do a good job there of holding him accountable.”

Rick Schu, another former Phillie and Harper’s hitting instructor for five seasons in Washington, once compared the Phillies’ $330 million man to Babe Ruth. Harper, of course, is now wearing No. 3, the same number worn by the Bambino. The Babe had only 103 home runs before his age 26 season. Harper has 184. Babe did hit 59 at age 26.

“Bryce, of course, is unique to himself,” Schu said. “He’s not Babe, and Babe wasn’t Bryce. But the thing that always looked similar to me was the leverage they both have with their front side. Their torque just generates such great bat speed and, of course, they are both left-handed hitters that hit home runs.”

Bryce Harper made his Arizona Fall League debut on Oct. 20, 2010, for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
Matt York / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bryce Harper made his Arizona Fall League debut on Oct. 20, 2010, for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Schu was Washington’s minor-league hitting coordinator when Harper first signed, and the thing that has always impressed him even more than the power is the eye.

“He has an uncanny ability to recognize the strike zone,” Schu said.

Harper’s 585 walks since his rookie season of 2012 are the fifth-highest total in baseball.

Ryan Zimmerman, 34, saw each and every season of Harper’s Washington career and simply applauds the work of his former teammate.

“He obviously had a great playing career here,” Zimmerman said. “It was cool for me to see him grow up as a person and a teammate. He came in as an 18-year-old kid who had never been anywhere for more than two years, so he never really had to learn how to be around a group of guys. And I’m not saying that was a bad thing or he was a good or a bad teammate at the beginning. It was just cool to see him progress as a human being and not just a player.

"He went from being a young high school kid to being married, and I got to know his family a little bit, so that was fun for me. The player obviously speaks for himself.”

Ryan Zimmerman was on hand for Bryce Harper's introductory news conference in August 2010. He's been there for the entirety of Harper's career.
Alex Brandon / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ryan Zimmerman was on hand for Bryce Harper's introductory news conference in August 2010. He's been there for the entirety of Harper's career.

Harper’s career with the Nationals speaks volumes. He was not the best player in baseball during the first seven seasons of his career, although his 1.109 OPS during his 2015 National League MVP season is the best of any player in baseball during that span, and his 10.0 WAR that year has been topped only by Mike Trout (three times) and Mookie Betts last year.

If winning is the only thing, Harper’s Nationals won four division titles in his seven seasons. The franchise had won one division title before he got there.

“They had nothing but success when he was there,” Schu said. “He won the rookie of the year and the MVP. He played through injuries, and he did awesome.”

Harper readily admits that breaking into the big leagues as a teenager was not easy.

“Any time you are young and you walk into a clubhouse with a lot of veteran guys, it is definitely difficult,” he said. “I just tried to learn as fast as I could. I was also trying to learn a new position in the outfield. I was trying to understand my teammates and when I could talk and when I couldn’t talk.

"There were definitely strong personalities, but I had a great time, and I learned what it meant to be a big-leaguer. The first three years were kind of a blur. The last four were awesome.”

Harper concedes he had a lot of growing up to do as a big-league player when he got to Washington in 2012.
Richard Lipski / AP
Harper concedes he had a lot of growing up to do as a big-league player when he got to Washington in 2012.

Harper, certainly equipped to talk about money after signing what is now the second-biggest contract in baseball history, put his time with Washington into financial terms.

“Of course, it would have been better to win a World Series,” he said. “But other than that, I can’t complain. The Nationals when I got there were worth $550 million, and they are worth $1.6 billion now.”

Actually it was $1.675 billion, according to Forbes Magazine last year, but what’s $75 million?

“I was fortunate to be on some very good teams, and I had a blast,” Harper said.

Bryce Harper helped lead the Nationals to three National League Divisional Series. The franchise had been to one prior to Harper's debut.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
Bryce Harper helped lead the Nationals to three National League Divisional Series. The franchise had been to one prior to Harper's debut.

The start of Harper’s Philadelphia story

The next chapter for Harper is now in its infancy. He signed with the Phillies for 13 years and $330 million after he and his wife, Kayla, connected with managing partner John Middleton and his wife, Leigh. The length of the deal shocked everyone.

“I’ll be almost 50 when that deal is over,” Zimmerman said.

An entire decade will have come and gone by the time the Harper deal is over.

As someone who watched Harper grow up, Werth said he cannot wait to see what lies ahead.

“It was pretty entertaining to sit back and watch him grow and become the $330 million man he is now,” Werth said. “To me, he is still a kid.

"I remember when I came to Philadelphia, Charlie Manuel always gave me a hard time. He’d tell me, ‘You’re going to be a good player, son, when you’re 32.’ He’d just bust my chops, and I gave Bryce the same treatment. Whether he was hot or cold, I’d say, ‘Man, you’re going to be a good player when you’re 30.’ ”

Harper will play this entire season at age 26. His age 30 season will not come until 2023.

Oh, he’s going to get better as he gets older, especially in that ballpark.
Rick Schu, former Phillie and Harper's hitting instructor with the Nats

“Oh, he’s going to get better as he gets older, especially in that ballpark,” Schu said. “He’s going to hit balls to left and left-center that would not have gone out in D.C., but they will in Philly. And what he can do on his pull side is just amazing. I was hoping he was coming here, and in my heart I thought he would stay with the Nats. But he is going to love Philly.”

Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper comes out of the dugout for batting practice, during baseball workout at Citizens Bank Park. Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Philadelphia.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Philadelphia Phillies' Bryce Harper comes out of the dugout for batting practice, during baseball workout at Citizens Bank Park. Tuesday, March 26, 2019, in Philadelphia.

The city, of course, has a reputation for being tough on even its most adored athletes. Schu saw Mike Schmidt get booed. Werth went from postseason hero to visiting zero during his seven-year contract with Washington.

Both men said Harper can handle whatever lies ahead.

“He was bred to have success in that city,” Schu said. “He can handle the media part of it because I’ve been watching him do interviews since he was in low-A ball. The game would end, and ESPN would want to talk to him. I think what helps him the most is that he has a wonderful family. His mom and dad keep him grounded, and his brother is awesome. I mean, that family really is the best of the best.”

Werth also was astonished by the length of Harper’s deal, but he is convinced the Phillies will not regret it.

He was bred to have success in that city.
Rick Schu on Harper's chances in Philadelphia

“He’ll be going to the ballpark in some kind of aerial vehicle at the end of the deal,” he said. “But I truly believe he has not even scratched the surface yet on the player he is going to become.

"It’s not going to be easy. There will be struggles and hardships and confrontations, and everything you could imagine is going to happen. That’s the nature of the beast when you’re under the microscope. But this should not be a news flash: He already has a lot of experience, and nothing he sees is going to overwhelm him.”

Perhaps the biggest difference between Harper the National and Harper the Phillie will be the clubhouse expectations. For $330 million, some semblance of leadership is likely expected.

“When you get into this phase of your career and you sign a deal like that and you’re there as long as he’s going to be there, that’s part of it,” Zimmerman said. “You get paid for what you’ve done, but when a deal is that long then [leadership] is kind of included in the deal.”

Bryce Harper rounds the bases as Phillie fans celebrate his first home run.
YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Bryce Harper rounds the bases as Phillie fans celebrate his first home run.

Schu said he does not think that will be a problem.

“I’m sure it’s not his clubhouse yet, but it will be,” Schu said. “He will lead by example, and it will become his club, and he will be the go-to guy.”

Harper said no one should expect him to lead the cheerleading squad, but he hopes his teammates will watch the way he plays and feel he is worth following.

I want to play the game the right way and do everything the right way.
Bryce Harper on how he plans to approach the clubhouse

“I want to play the game the right way and do everything the right way,” Harper said. “If guys want to ask me questions, I will answer them. But I do also want to respect the veteran guys in this clubhouse.

"For me, there are guys like Rhys [Hoskins] and Tommy [Hunter] and Jake [Arrieta] who are the pieces of this puzzle, and they understand this clubhouse. If they want to ask me questions, I’ll give them feedback. Right now, I just want to be one of the guys who helps this team win.”

Winning, without question, will be the No. 1 thing that defines the next chapter of Harper’s already remarkable baseball life.

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