Saturday, June 6, 2009 | 2 a.m.
In Today's Sun
- Las Vegas 'prodigy' makes Sports Illustrated cover (6-2-2009)
- Talent sky-high, feet on ground (5-7-2009)
- It's a swing of beauty (2-7-2009)
I have only one prediction about the future of Bryce Harper, the Las Vegas High baseball wunderkind.
He’s never gonna see another fastball.
Not after Sports Illustrated put him on the cover of its magazine this week.
It’s not like he was getting good pitches to hit, anyway. But guys — or, in his case, 16-year-old high school sophomores — who get their picture on the front of Sports Illustrated do not get to whack at belt-high fastballs. They get their patience tested with slow curves and changeups that may float tantalizingly close to home plate, but seldom over it.
Then, if they can develop the discipline of a Marine drill instructor, they trot down to first base.
Chicks dig the long ball. I’m not sure how they feel about semi-intentional walks.
A generation ago there was a slightly older baseball wunderkind named Clint Hurdle whose picture was taken for the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was about to break in with the Kansas City Royals. “This year’s phenom” said the caption.
Hurdle did not become that year’s phenom. He did not become next year’s phenom, or any year after that’s phenom. In five big-league seasons, Hurdle batted .259 with 32 home runs and 193 RBIs.
It’s hard to become a phenom when you see a steady diet of slow curves and changeups that are wide of the strike zone. I have this theory that had they put Clint Hurdle’s picture in the Scorecard section or in Faces in the Crowd instead of on the cover, he might be in Cooperstown.
Harper is the 11th high school athlete to be a Sports Illustrated cover boy (or girl). Some, as you will read in the sidebar, have gone on to achieve greatness. Some had solid pro careers. A couple flamed out, victims of the Sports Illustrated jinx. How else do you explain young Jon Peters’ rotator cuff going poof! before he threw even one pitch in college?
Only time will tell if Bryce Harper will go on to the superstardom predicted for him. But of all the high school stars I’ve had the privilege of watching over the years, I can’t think of one who has a better chance.
My copy of SI arrived today. I can’t decide whether to give it to Bryce’s dad, Ron, to send to one of the relatives, or have The Kid sign it and hang it on the wall.
Right now, I’m leaning toward the latter.