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September 22, 2014

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Bryce Harper was already a star at age 13

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Sam Morris

Harper, shown in a Las Vegas High School game last year, is expected to be the first pick of the Washington Nationals in June through baseball’s First-Year Player Entry Draft.

From a centerpiece feature story in the Summerlin Home News to the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s the Bryce Harper I know.

Before Harper was crowned the “Chosen One,” the “LeBron James of Baseball,” and next in line to the throne of “King of Swing,” by national sports magazines, he bore a lesser title from a Las Vegas community newspaper – “Hot Prospect.”

And before famed Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci introduced Harper to the world, there was a fresh-out-of-college, wide-eyed sports reporter who introduced Harper to Las Vegas.

That reporter was me. I had one of the first interviews with Harper, long before he turned down requests from the likes of “60 Minutes” and other national programs.

Harper was a 13-year-old Harney Middle School student and hardly a blip on the national baseball radar, though not completely unknown. Baseball America, which knows all too well that it’s never too early to scout out the heirs of baseball royalty, tabbed him, “possibly the best pure hitter under 12 years old."

“It doesn’t affect me that much,” the 13-year-old Harper said later, answering my query if the attention he had started to garner was a distracting or welcoming addition. “It makes me work harder. I expect perfection from myself.”

There was humility, yet hunger in Harper’s tone. Not many teenagers are interview-ready. Harper seemed born into it. He’s been blessed with a cannon for an arm and a bat that would make "The Babe" jealous at 13, and he knows it.

But he has the rare combination of talent and toil. You could see it then. You can see it now.

Harper, however, is more than just hype. He’s always been a step ahead. At 13, he was hitting with high school players. His physique has always been an inch or two to the fore.

“I can’t say I’ve seen all of them, but the one’s I have seen, he has more talent than anyone else at that age,” said Glen Evans, a College of Southern Nevada assistant coach, who at the time was Harper’s American Legion coach.

Harper, now 17 and on the eve of likely becoming the top overall pick in the MLB First-Year Player Entry Draft, not so quietly forewent his final two years at Las Vegas High to play at the College of Southern Nevada. He batted .442 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs this spring.

Again, playing above his age. Again, excelling at it.

The world will see if the words his father, Ron Harper, said to me four years ago remain true: “He’s not cocky. He’s very humble."

Jimmy Trombley is a former reporter for the Greenspun Media Group’s Home News community newspapers.

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