Ron Harper speaks with his youngest son most every day, and on the evening of June 13, Bryce Harper sounded tired. The Washington Nationals had finished a road trip through Boston and Toronto, during which Harper put on one of the most devastating hitting stretches by a teenager on record. On the phone with his father, baseball was not on his mind. “I can’t wait to go home, Pop,” Harper said.
The casual reference gave Ron Harper pause. Home? Home had always been Las Vegas, the city where Harper was born and raised. Then, he realized his son wasn’t talking about Las Vegas. He was talking about Washington.
“This was the first time I heard him say D.C. felt like home,” he said.
Since his major league debut on April 28, Harper has played at a historic level for someone his age. He has emerged as an offensive catalyst for a first-place team, and attracted fan and media attention throughout the sport with his blend of power and hustle.
He also remains a 19-year-old who could be in college but is instead living alone in a top-story apartment in Pentagon City, a $9.9 million contract in his pocket and a $20 Weber grill on the balcony. He does his own laundry, except when his father visits. When he is bored, he goes shopping in Georgetown. He thinks of Washington as home with a surprising — or, for the Nationals and their fans, encouraging — degree of permanence.
About three weeks ago, Harper talked to teammate Ryan Zimmerman about playing in the same city for the duration of his career. Zimmerman, who grew up in Virginia, signed a contract extension this offseason that ensures he will stay in Washington through at least 2019. Harper told him he wanted the same thing in his career.
“You look at Cal Ripken. You look at Derek Jeter. You look at all the greats that played for one team their whole career,” Harper said last weekend, sitting in the dugout at Camden Yards in Baltimore. “I want to be like that. I’ve always wanted to be like that. I’ve always wanted to play with that same team.”
“Having a community and fans like we do in D.C. that love our players, love everything about us, we deserve to give something back to them,” he added. “I want to do that. I don’t want to do anything else.”
Harper has told his father the same thing, that he wants to make Washington home and play here until he retires. “Bryce is as loyal as they come,” Ron Harper said. “He doesn’t care about nothing but winning a championship.”
He is considering moving to Washington for the winter, to live here year-round and visit family out West for holidays. Only three Washington players — Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Columbia, Md., native Steve Lombardozzi — live in the area.
“The best thing about D.C. is the people,” Harper said. “They are so nice and genuine. Seeing us on the streets, it’s just like ‘Hey, I don’t want to bother you, but it’s nice to meet you. You’re doing a great job.’ They’re so nice. I got the vibe right when I got to D.C. I was like, ‘These people actually care about their athletes. They actually care about the people around them.’ They just want the best for us.”
Feeling a vivid peace
Baseball’s relentless schedule consumes the majority of Harper’s time, but he has developed routines in his life away from the game. On many days, that includes scribbling it all down in a journal. He listens to Counting Crows and Dave Matthews Band and unburdens himself of his thoughts. He jots down quotes he wants to remember and logs his experiences.
“Just getting things out,” Harper said. “Once I get things out, then I come to the field the next day, I’m good. I don’t write every day. It’s just those times where it’s like, I’ve got to get a release.”
Harper has been writing in his journal since the end of high school, which for him is not long ago. Harper did not stay in college long — he passed the GED, left high school after his sophomore year and spent a semester at the College of Southern Nevada in order to qualify for the baseball draft at 17.
If he had stayed in school, he said, he would have majored in journalism. He likes to keep his writing sharp in case he becomes a sports broadcaster after his career. “It’s not like I’m writing poetry or anything like that,” he said.
He feels a vivid peace when he writes. One night, Harper sat on his balcony and listened to music as a storm gathered. “The rain and stuff is unreal — the thunder and the lightning storms,” Harper said. “The lightning storms are pretty impressive out here. In Vegas, you get that a lot, too. I like when it rains. It’s relaxing.”
A close circle
Harper wakes up most mornings between 9:30 and 10. He makes the bed every day. He eats often at Ted’s Bulletin, on Barracks Row, because he loves the breakfast and they serve it all day. Sometimes he sits at the bar or in the main dining room, or takes food to go. His favorite order is a stack of chocolate pancakes.