In the moments after the Washington Nationals selected a then-17-year-old Bryce Harper with the no.1 overall pick in the 2010 Draft, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo was asked if the College of Southern Nevada catcher/outfielder would be wearing the smeared eye black/war paint that had become something of a trademark for the teenage baseball sensation. "No," the Nationals' General Manager responded. There were some who questioned Harper's "character" as he worked his way toward becoming the no.1 overall pick in the first year he was eligible. The Nevada-native left high school early, earned his GED and enrolled at Southern Nevada, where he could play in a wood bat league as he prepared for what seemed like an inevitable career in the majors.
Rizzo, a scout-turned-scouting director-turned front office exec, had no questions about Harper, however, telling reporters on the night of the draft that he was completely comfortable with the kind of competitor the Nationals selected. "There are no concerns about this player's makeup," Rizzo said, "We are sold on him and the family, the character of the player, he acts like a 17-year-old at times, I don't want to tell you what I did at 17, so, you know, he's mature beyond his years as far as performance on the field, tools, development, and even his social skills. This guy has had more hype and more publicity than most 25-year-olds have had already and I think he's handled it remarkably. Between the lines, he's going 110mph all the time. He's a baseball rat. I love the way he gets after it."
Though Harper started his second pro season at Triple-A Syracuse in spite of Davey Johnson's desire to have the then-19-year-old outfielder stick with the team out of Spring Training last year, injuries and a lack of production from the Nats' outfield resulted in Harper being called up to make his MLB debut on April 28th in L.A. In his first major league season, Harper put up a .270/.340/.477 line with 26 doubles, nine triples and 22 HRs in a +4.9 fWAR campaign. In his first posteason experience, Harper was 3 for 23 with double, triple and home run in five games against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Harper reportedly turned down an offer to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic so that he could concentrate on his first Spring Training as a part of the Nationals' major league roster. After 22 games of Grapefruit League action, the now-20-year-old Nats' left fielder is 28 for 61 (.459/.484/.721) with five doubles, a triple and three home runs. After a spectacular rookie campaign, Harper's also become one of MLB's most marketable young stars. The Nationals' three-hole hitter has a new Opening Day commercial out tonight in which the "war paint" makes a blink-and-you'll-miss-it return as Harper explains what motivates him when he takes the field.
"I play for the 'W' on my hat," Harper says, "And 95 more in the win column. I play for the pennants waiting to be hung and the Nationals-red pumping through my veins. I play for the warrior, inside and out..."
That's when the "war paint" returns:
"I play for October," Harper says as the commercial ends.
World Series or bust.
• Check out Harper's Opening Day commercial below: