Thursday, August 26, 2010, 8:25 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
Bryce Harper sat in front of a overflowing room of reporters, cameras, family members and Washington Nationals executives, and looked and acted like anything but a 17-year-old kid wearing a big-league jersey for the first time.
Then again, Harper hardly looked his age as he was peppering the Nationals Park bleachers with home runs during batting practice two hours earlier.
Guess there's a reason the Nationals drafted the talented and cocksure kid first in the country in June and then gave him a 9.9 million, major-league contract 10 days ago.
"We feel that he's going to be a cornerstone of the organization, on and off the field," general manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday in introducing Harper.
It will likely be two or three years before Harper returns to Nationals Park as a big leaguer, so there's no way to know yet whether he'll live up to the hype. He'll head to Viera, Fla., in the next week to begin working out with rookie Gulf Coast League players, then will play in the Florida instructional league and possibly the Arizona Fall League.
But if Harper's first round of BP in the District was any indication, there's going to be a lot of jaw-dropping in these parts around 2012 or 2013.
Given a chance to take some hacks during an early batting session with Nationals outfielders Justin Maxwell and Kevin Mench in the cage and about 50 star-struck onlookers, Harper put on a show. After a couple of obligatory bunts and opposite-field base hits, Harper's first attempt to pull the ball resulted in a home run that landed in the third deck high above the right-field bullpen.
Over the next 15 minutes, Harper found the seats 12 times, reaching the second deck once and homering on three consecutive swings to left, center and right fields.
"Very impressed," manager Jim Riggleman said. "I've heard so much about him, as we all have. He's just a real nice, physical specimen of a young man who can really swing the bat."
"Impressive," said Mench, a 32-year-old with 89 career big-league home runs. "I was impressed with the size of his hands. They're huge! He's going to grow into those."
Through it all, Harper was calm and collected, showing no signs of being intimidated by the surroundings.
"It felt like home," he said. "It was a blast going out there."
This wasn't the first time Harper hit in a major-league stadium. He'd already done it at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., Petco Park in San Diego and in both the old and new Yankee Stadiums.
"Hitting on a pro field is always fun," he said. "I'm like a kid in a candy store."
Harper also was perfectly comfortable during his press conference. Unlike the reticent Stephen Strasburg one year ago, Harper cracked jokes, spoke about how's he's buddies with Albert Pujols and said he might keep his new faux hawk hairdo because "the ladies like it."
Attention is nothing new for Harper, who has been in the spotlight since appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated last summer.
"I've had a lot of people on me my whole life," he said. "I'm used to it now. I have had a lot of media. I want to have fun. Having the media and stuff, that's fine. I don't care. If you like me, you like me. If you don't, you don't."
Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.