KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was just about two months ago that Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels stood on the mound at Nationals Park, watched Bryce Harper step into the batters box and decided to use the moment to administer a message to the Nationals’ 19-year-old rookie.
Hamels, as the well-known story goes, hit Harper in the lower back with a pitch. Harper subsequently stole home on him. In the aftermath, Hamels regaled reporters with his reason for hitting Harper on purpose and was issued a suspension from major league baseball. Harper brushed off the entire thing, saying he had no idea why he’d be the target of something like that. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo fiercely defended his player, calling Hamels “fake tough,” among other things, and also received a fine from the commissioners’ office.
On Monday, though, Hamels said all the right things about Harper — even pointing to that moment as a lesson for him.
“That was probably the most impressive thing I’ve seen,” Hamels said. “Unfortunately I had to be on the bitter end of the stick on that, but you know what? It definitely shows you a lot about what he does, and I think it’s taught me something about baseball, to push harder and play harder. I can thank him for it, too.”
“It shows the character he has,” Hamels added. “That’s awesome to see from a 19-year-old because at 19, I didn’t know what type of qualities I had, let alone to be in the big leagues and have to deal with those pressures. It’s been nice to see the way he goes about it.”
Hamels was also asked, like many players, if they were starting a franchise who would they choose to build around: Harper or Mike Trout. Hamels chose Harper.
“I’m going to say Harper because I haven’t seen Trout play,” Hamels said. “I mean, I watch him enough on ESPN highlights, but the way that Harper goes about it, and obviously he’s a couple of months younger, I’m going to take the young guy. Harper is tremendous to watch and he’s definitely a center point that you’d want to build your team around.
“When you get in the game of baseball and it gets long, the hustle and the fight that you have, sometime you don’t do it all the time. But he’s 100 percent. From start to finish he’s in it, mentally and physically. You can start to see that slip sometimes, even the best do it. I’ve done it. And you can’t see it from him. That’s pretty cool to see.”