- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Do your fingers hurt yet from pressing that “vote” button for Bryce Harper again and again and again and again? Are your eyes strained from trying to read those blurry numbers repeatedly?

If so, suck it up for one more morning and afternoon. Voting for the final spot on the All-Star rosters ends at 4 p.m. Thursday. With the news that Chipper Jones has been added to the National League team and taken out of the balloting, it is imperative the Nationals’ Bryce Harper gets the final spot. It simply has to happen.

Jones, the longtime Atlanta Brave, is retiring after this season. The end of one remarkable career has to intersect with what looks like the start of another. A strong case can be made that Harper is The Next Jones, and this is their only chance to be teammates for just one day.

For starters, it is absurd that someone with the career Jones has had was even in the original final-spot balloting only to be added as an injury replacement for Matt Kemp. How is he not automatically on the team?

“I would think that would be a no-brainer,” said Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche, a former teammate of Jones.

You’d think. No matter. Jones is on the team now. Harper has to get there.

Harper was in diapers when Jones made his major league debut in 1993. A child of the modern age, Harper was able to follow Jones and the Braves through cable television. He’s come to admire Jones for being “an amazing talent, an amazing guy. The entire game of baseball loves him. He just plays the game the right way. He has a lot of respect in the game. I think that’s huge.”

Harper has grown up to be very much like Jones. There’s a swing that looks like it could have been painted by Michelangelo. There’s a confidence Michael Jordan would envy.

Jones has won a Most Valuable Player award and been an All-Star eight times. It doesn’t take a high-end crystal ball to project the same for Harper. It is not outrageous to suggest he’ll win at least one MVP and make numerous All-Star teams. Jones has been a one-uniform guy. Harper wants to be a one-uniform guy.

He’d probably take it right now if you told him his career would be a parallel of what Jones has done.

“Watching him when I was growing up was fun,” Harper said. “You always wanted to be like him.”

LaRoche and Nats utilityman Mark DeRosa joined the Braves after Jones had established himself. They’re getting a look at what it must have been like by watching Harper.

“It’s a sixth sense they have in baseball terms. I don’t know how to explain it,” LaRoche said. “Little things here and there that the average guy doesn’t do is what really separates them. Their confidence is on another level.

Bryce is slowly developing that now, and I saw it with Chipper. He knew he was the best player out there. Even if he was the worst player at a given moment, he knew he was the best. Just little things in this game you can’t teach. Occasionally guys come along who have all those and it shines.”

Said DeRosa, “They’re very similar with the confidence level they have. Chipper was always a guy with the utmost confidence in himself, always wanted the big stage, always wanted the big moment against the best pitchers. This kid is no different. This kid is special.

“He’s going to get one or two years of 600-plus plate appearances to kind of sift through the league, figure out how guys are going to pitch him and then by the time he’s 21, 22 years old, you’re going to see a monster. That was kind of Chipper.”

By the time Harper gets there, Jones will be off enjoying whatever it is he plans to do in a well-earned retirement. The baton will have passed. There’s one, and only one, chance for Harper and Jones to be on the same side for a day.

That’s why Harper has to win this vote. Ignore the sore fingers, ignore the painful eyes. It’s only one more day. So go vote again. And again and again and again.