KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bryce Harper went from laughing with Chipper Jones to shaking hands with George Brett and saying hello to Frank Robinson. The game’s greats surrounded him, watched him take batting practice.
“Ah, that was pretty unbelievable,” Harper said later. “No words.”
But there was a 7-year-old kid squealing inside his 6-foot-3 frame. Brett — the same George Brett Harper used to imitate with takeout slides at second base in Little League — was a fan of his. That was a running theme this week in Kansas City as Harper partook in his first All-Star Game.
“He seems like a really good dude,” said Brewers slugger Ryan Braun. “He’s handled himself great. He’s very humble. Dealing with everything he’s had to deal with? I don’t think he gets enough credit.”
How could that be? Harper’s supposed to be a brash, cocky punk who carries himself without regard for anyone, right?
“I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant to give him much credit when he first got here,” Jones said. “But man, he’s changed my thought process.”
Bryce Harper, the kid who’s been anointed the next greatest-ever since before he was old enough to drive, isn’t supposed to be this likable and easy to respect.
“More times than not, I would say people have a bad perception of him,” said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, one of a handful of Nationals veterans who have been integral in Harper’s transition to the major leagues. “And then they play against him for three games. And more times than not it completely changes to the other way.”
“ESPN shows him hitting a home run and blowing a kiss to a pitcher, you know?” Jones said. “They don’t relay the fact that the pitcher threw one behind him the pitch before. They don’t relay that. That’s where everybody’s opinion gets skewed.”
As Harper has navigated through his first 63 games, he has allowed his play and his personality to take care of those perceptions. He’s not unaccustomed to the opposition loathing him, but the big leagues are a different story.
“I think everybody had this misconception that I was going to come up here, be a lollygagger and pimp home runs,” Harper said. “But my brother is a pitcher. Somebody showboated him, I’d get [upset] as a catcher. I never wanted to do that.”
But before he could change the mind of someone like Jones, Harper had to work on his own clubhouse — on veterans such as outfielder Jayson Werth, who didn’t immediately gravitate to him given his truncated path to the big leagues,