Bryce Harper's distinctive smeared eyeblack (warpaint?) was a part of his image as commented-upon as his bat speed and prodigious power when he was working his way up through high school, junior college and USA baseball. New York Times' writer Alan Schwarz captured the phenom perfectly last year when he wrote in a pre-draft article entitled, "At 17, Baseball’s Next Sure Thing: Bryce Harper", that the then-College of Southern Nevada catcher was described by scouts as, "...a tape-measure-testing, laser-throwing, eyeblack-oozing baseball cyborg." Upon being taken no.1 overall in the 2010 Draft, however, Harper was told that the eyeblack was done, or at least D.C. GM Mike Rizzo made that clear to the press. Asked in a post-draft press conference if Harper would be allowed to wear the eyeblack in the Nats' system, the Nats' General Manager responded clearly, "No."
Harper wore a toned-down, (less-smeared?) version of the eyeblack out in the Arizona Fall League last November where he hit .343/.410/.629 with three doubles, two triples and a HR in 9 games and 35 at bats playing twice a week as part of the Scottsdale Scorpions' taxi squad, but when he arrived in camp this week, 42-year-old Matt Stairs, a veteran of 18 MLB seasons who's fighting for a spot on the Nats' roster as a bench bat, told the 18-year-old Harper to lose the ooze. CSN Washington writer Kelli Johnson (@KJohnsonCSN) captured the conversation between the veteran and man-child and posted it on Twitter this morning:
"Vet Matt Stairs told Harper 'no more eye black, it's a [high school] thing.' Nats broke team huddle w/"1,2,3 eye black!"
• Quotes and Links from Harper's first live BP after the Jump...
Harper faced 23-year-old RHP Shairon Martis and 24-year-old righty Brian Broderick in his first live BP of the Spring this morning. The left-handed hitting Harper's every swing was documented by the reporters in attendance and shared with NatsTown via Twitter:
MLB.com's Bill Ladson (@washingnats): "#Nats OF Bryce Harper took four pitches [from Martis], fouled off one pitch and hit a ball up the middle for a hit."
Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP): "Round 2: Four pitches for Harper. One swing and miss, one hot grounder to right."
Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP): "Against Broderick, Harper had two bloops, many fouls, one swing-and-miss. Pudge Rodriguez high-fived him."
After BP Harper was reportedly whisked away in a golf cart in an attempt to keep the young outfielder-of-the-future away from the throngs of autograph seekers whose aggressive approach to getting the 18-year-old to scribble his name with a Sharpie on their paraphernalia apparently caused an uncomfortable scene for some yesterday. Two days into his first Spring Training Harper's causing as much of a stir as the Nats' '09 no.1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg did last year at this point. Will the everyday nature of an outfielder's life, as opposed to the once-every-five-days nature of a pitcher's, which is one of the big things that Nats feel Harper needs to adjust to, also cause the excitement to die down?
Strasburg's circus followed him through every start in the minors to his major league debut and up until he was injured, but with Harper playing every day from here on out, maybe he'll be given more a chance to adjust without as much of the media crush than Stras was, but that's not likely, and it's probably okay. Harper seems to like being the center of attention.