Thirteen home runs. Twenty-eight RBIs. Twenty-two walks in 26 games. Judging by those May numbers, you could be forgiven for forgetting that Bryce Harper is actually of this planet, but he is.
A bum shoulder could keep Harper out of this year’s Home Run Derby in Cincinnati. A bum shoulder, you say. Hasn’t Harper picked up right where he left off with a .455 batting average through three June games?
Well, you see, the shoulder is not actually attached to Bryce. It’s his dad’s shoulder. Ron Harper, Bryce’s personal pitcher in the Home Run Derby back in 2013 when he finished as runner-up, just went under the knife for rotator cuff surgery and won’t be back in time to pitch to his son in the Derby.
“I probably won’t be able to do it this year, because he’s my guy,” Harper said of his father.
Each of us who has played baseball remembers the special moments shared with our own father on the baseball field. I’ll never be called upon to take hacks in the MLB Home Run Derby, but I will always remember the hours I spent with my own father in the batting cage or on the field. Those countless hours Bryce spent with his own father honing that incredible swing are obviously very special to him. When Harper is presented as the hair-flipping, arrogant prodigy, it is hard to remember the fact that he is somebody’s son, with real, human, familial relations tugging at his heartstrings. Every player on a Major League diamond is somebody’s son, and their formative years likely involved a lot of time doing exactly what Harper did with his dad on the Citi Field grass two years ago.
It’s rare that we as fans of the game are given these opportunities to see into the player’s actual human side — although Harper does let us see his emotions more than others. The Home Run Derby does not hold the same place in Harper’s heart without his dad on the mound. To him, the event is not a chance to get out on the field and promote his brand or stump for Gatorade. It is a chance to get back to the good old days when it was just him, Dad, and a bucket of balls. To me, that’s special. Harper would not be on that field without his dad, and without Ron on the mound, the Derby just doesn’t mean as much to him.
If you want to hate Harper, by all means, hate him. Feel free to hate any Major League player you want. That’s your prerogative, and I’m not here to tell you otherwise. However, I encourage you to take this opportunity and moment to remember one fact. Every player you’re watching in that Home Run Derby has a dad, has a mom, and has real human emotions. Take this opportunity to remind yourself that you and your heroes are really not all that different when it comes to wanting a special moment with the people who helped form you into the person you are today.