Published Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 11:17 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 3:21 p.m.
Las Vegas High sophomore catcher Bryce Harper is the ‘most exciting prodigy since Lebron.’
The power-hitting Harper, who batted .626 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs this spring, will be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on Thursday with a headline proclaiming the 16-year-old is ‘Baseball’s Chosen One.’ The subhead makes the comparison to NBA star Lebron James.
“It is just amazing. I’m so proud of him for all the work he has done,” said Ron Harper, his father. “I don’t know if anyone in the country deserves it more than him. He just busts his butt for something he loves.”
By the time Harper, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound, smooth-swinging left-handed hitter, walked into his first-period class this morning, word had already spread to teachers and classmates of Harper's soon-to-be national notoriety. Las Vegas baseball coach Sam Thomas e-mailed the cover to staff at the school.
"This is so awesome. There are no words to describe it," Bryce Harper said. "With everyone seeing the magazine, that will put a big target on my back. But I don't care. I love that."
Tom Verducci, the magazine’s baseball writer, was in Las Vegas three weeks ago for the Wildcats’ game against Canyon Springs to conduct the interview.
Initially, the family assumed the story would be buried on the inside of the magazine. They got a call Monday night telling them otherwise.
“We saw (the cover) for the first time yesterday,” Ron Harper said. “He just said, ‘Wow.’ I’ve always told him that you will take a lot of pressure from the space you occupy. Right now, he is going to occupy a lot of space.”
Harper hit seven home runs this month in six Sunrise Regional playoff games, but Las Vegas fell to Green Valley High in the title game. His power at the plate included blasting a 502-foot home run at the Tampa Rays’ Tropicana Field in a national home run derby in January.
Representation from mega-agent Scott Boras’ office has been spotted at most of Harper’s games this spring. He is expected to be a top pick in the 2011 draft.
“I would say Bryce is the best all-round player I have seen,” Thomas said. “It is just how he plays the game and his work ethic.”
Bryce Harper said he will not let the attention change the way he approaches the game.
"There is always something you can improve on," he said. "I go to practice every day believing there is someone out there working harder than me."
He will spend the summer trying to make the 18-and-under national team, which will play in an international tournament Sept. 24 to Oct. 4 in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. The first step is competing in the USA Baseball Tournament of Stars June 23 to 28 at the National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. USA Baseball will take the top 36 players from the event.
"I'm going to have a huge bulls-eye on my back the rest of my life," he said.
He already had minor national interest. Come Thursday, his story will be in the mailbox of the magazine’s 3.1 million subscribers.
“A lot of people are really going to be watching him now,” Ron Harper said.
Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].