- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — His face red, his eyes squinting into rows of cameras around his small table, Bryce Harper smiled, laughed and took in the scene during 45 minutes of questioning at Monday’s All-Star media day.

The queries ranged from the absurd, like what music he has on his iPod and how many times he hears the word “clown” in a day, to the introspective, like his admiration and idolization of Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer George Brett. They did not let up, there was no opportunity to pause.

When it was over, the Washington Nationals’ 19-year-old phenom took a deep breath, joked with the last reporter who’d stuck around at his table and took the placard denoting that station as his off its Velcro hinges. The Home Run Derby awaited. Harper wasn’t sure what else would.

“I’m not going to swing at the first pitch, I hope,” he said of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game. “If I go 0-fer I really don’t care. It’s just a time to enjoy myself.”

About an hour earlier, the Angels’ 20-year-old phenom Mike Trout sat at the same station. The two former Arizona Fall League teammates have come to be chummy, and they exchange texts regularly when one or the other is pulling off some unbelievable feat. A few months ago, both were in the Fall League’s Rising Stars game. Now they’re All-Stars.

“I don’t know about me, but I knew Trout would [be here],” Harper said. “Everybody knew he was going to be up this year. I kind of got lucky that I had the opportunity to come up and play.”

“He’s gone through a lot,” Trout said. “He’s been rated a No. 1 prospect since he’s 6 years old…. The things he’s done this year and at that age, it’s pretty unbelievable.”

Wake-up call for Hamels

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels chose Harper’s first at-bat against him in May to hit Harper with a ‘Welcome to the big leagues’ pitch. Harper subsequently stole home on him. A war of words between the two teams followed.

Hamels, who drew the ire of Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo for his actions as well as admitting their intent after the game, voted for Harper for the All-Star Game.

“That [steal of home] 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 … it definitely shows you a lot about what he does. I think it’s taught me something about baseball: to push harder and play harder. I can thank him for it, too.”

Flying high

The Nationals’ trio of All-Stars flew from Washington to Kansas City on the Lerner family’s plane Sunday night, spending the time talking with principal owner Ted Lerner and his family and watching Stephen Strasburg’s Yorkie, Bentley, do tricks.

“Definitely a first,” Strasburg said. “Had our dog doing tricks for the Lerners and everything. He can play dead. There was a little turbulence, and he was a little nervous, but once it mellowed out a little bit you point your finger at him and he’ll fall over.”

“We had some fun, some smiles, some jokes, but once we landed we were like, ‘All right, let’s get it going now,’” Gio Gonzalez said. “Me and Stras are going to be competing who’s going to catch the most fly balls in the outfield today.”