A young man, not even to 20, strode up to the plate at Dodger Stadium for his first major league at-bat – and heard the boos cascade down, as if he was from San Francisco.
Alas, Bryce Harper is with the Washington Nationals. But the team affiliation did not matter. The talent he possesses, and the impact he could have on baseball, was the reason why his debut was so eagerly covered and analyzed.
Local fans had two reasons to feel conflicted about this. First, he ended up spending less than a month in Syracuse, only hitting .250 or so, his call-up a product not of overwhelming greatness, but of necessity, since Ryan Zimmerman was going to the DL.
Also, thanks to his national profile, Harper’s debut greatly overshadowed that of a local product, Cicero-North Syracuse’s Patrick Corbin. The left-hander went from Double-A to the Arizona Diamondbacks and, on Monday, won his first-ever start, beating the Miami Marlins.
Still, it’s impossible to avoid the Harper story. One theme throughout baseball history is the emergence of a young phenom, either at the plate or on the mound, with the Roy Hobbs mindset of wanting to be the best that ever was.
What’s just as certain is that you can’t predict how they’ll turn out.
Bob Feller went to the Cleveland Indians at 17. Al Kaline skipped the minor leagues and went straight to the Detroit Tigers at 18, and Robin Yount was also 18 when he started with the Milwaukee Brewers. Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez were in Seattle uniforms not long after their high school prom. They all did rather well.
At the other extreme is David Clyde, the textbook cautionary tale. Drafted first overall in 1973 by the Texas Rangers, the Houston high school prodigy, at 18, was rushed into the big leagues that summer because the Rangers, just two years into its Arlington tenure, was desperate for both attendance and publicity.