Truth be told yesterday was an opportunity to sit in the player’s section for the Detroit Tigers during a spring training game against the Washington Nationals, two rows behind Kate Upton, and presumably, Justin Verlander‘s parents. Joker Marchant stadium in Lakeland, Florida, was a new experience and the ballpark is modeled after Comerica Park in that it has insanely large dimensions, especially if you grew up going to Yankee Stadium most of the time.
The most interesting part of the day wasn’t so much who I was around or how I felt in the ballpark, it was without a doubt, seeing Bryce Harper for the first time.
Harper was created in a lab specifically made to generate the frame of a baseball player. It doesn’t matter what his height or his weight says, or what he looks like on TV or off the field, this is without a doubt, fact. Harper is to Michael Jordan as Mike Trout is to Lebron James. One set of bodies was created specifically for the sport they play, the others were created to be a superstar in pretty much anything they wanted.
You can be the biggest Jonathan Papelbon supporter you want to be, or feel Harper is obnoxious, arrogant, bad for the game, you could even be related to Goose Gossage, but at the end of the day, seeing Harper will go down as a bucket list item for any Baseball fan.
And he did not disappoint.
Let me preface this by saying the only other time I have felt the way I did similar to seeing Harper swing a baseball bat was when Barry Bonds came to Yankee Stadium in 2002. I went to the middle game of that interleague matchup and Bonds hit a home run so far into right field, it went more than half way up the upper deck in the old stadium. It was a silencing moment in the stadium for any player who can hit the ball into any part of the upper deck, nevermind about 20-30 rows into it.
It’s the longest home run I ever saw in my life in person, in batting practice or other, and it caused audible gasps from the crowd as if Bonds literally knocked the facade off of the ballpark.
Watching Bonds more than a decade ago was like watching a fantasy. Every time he swung and the ball went into the air I thought it was a home run and I’m a pretty good gauge on TV and in person of whether someone got “enough” of the ball to round the bases. But with Bonds, it was different. You just never knew exactly how far the ball would jump off his bat.
With Harper, especially as he heads into his prime, it’s going to be the same thing. Watching him stand in the on deck circle was menacing. Watching the way his body locks in at the plate is terrifying. Watching him recoil with a lightning fast swing is majestic.
His first ball in play seemed like it was a fly to deep right for an out because the ballpark is so large. Instead, it cleared everything for a 400+ foot bomb.
His second home run I didn’t think he got all of because it didn’t sound like it was pure contact and it was to dead center. Where I was wrong is that the ball never landed, it just kept accelerating long after I felt it should have physically started to dissent. Not only did it clear the center field wall but it also cleared the batter’s eye, which was probably a 30 foot wall in back of the 420 sign in dead center. Harper easily went 460+ feet to dead center on a ball he may not have squared up perfectly.
If last year’s assault on Major League Baseball didn’t convince you, try going to a Nationals’ game this year to see Harper play.
You’ll be thankful you did when your grandchildren ask you about it one day.