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Bryan Harper not living in his brother's shadow

June 24, 2012 - Mitch Rupert
By MITCH RUPERT

mrupert@sungazette.com

Bryan Harper always had hit little brother in tow with him when he’d go to play baseball with his friends. His friends used to make fun of him, saying his little brother, some three years his junior, was a better player than he was.

Harper, now a relief pitcher with the Auburn Doubledays in the Washington Nationals system, used to tell his friends that if his little brother was better than him, than he was better than all his friends, too.

Turns out Harper was right. Ever since Bryan was 6-years old, his little brother Bryce and he were always playing baseball together. It was part of growing up in a baseball family.

Bryan was a 30th-round selection of the Nationals last season. Bryce was the first overall draft pick of the Nationals in 2010 and is currently playing the outfield for the Nationals as a 19-year old.

Bryan finished a three-game series with Auburn at Bowman Field against the Williamsport Crosscutters on Sunday. He didn’t appear in any games and has pitched in just one game this year, surrendering 3 runs in 2 1/3 innings.

A 6-foot-5, 205-pound left-hander, Bryan was drafted three times before finally signing with the Nationals after completing his collegiate career at South Carolina last season where the Gamecocks won the national championship. It’s been a whirlwind couple of years for Harper. He’s played baseball at three different schools – Cal-State Northridge, The College of Southern Nevada and South Carolina. But during that time he’s played in the Junior College World Series with Bryce in 2010 and the College World Series with South Carolina.

“I was drafted out of high school, but my big thing was getting my education,” Harper said following batting practice Saturday at Bowman Field. “That’s always been a really important thing that my parents have pounded home. Getting your education is important because you never know when baseball is going to be over.”

His time with The College of Southern Nevada was especially special. He got the opportunity to play a season with Bryce, who had gotten his GED following his sophomore year of high school in order to enter the Major League draft a year earlier.

Bryce Harper won the Golden Spikes award that year, essentially the Heisman trophy of amateur baseball, hitting .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in 66 games. Bryan was equally effective on the mound, striking out 88 in 57 2/3 innings with a 2.18 ERA. The two carried the Coyotes to the JUCO World Series.

“That was a great experience going to the JUCO World Series and playing with Bryce,” Bryan Harper said. “Our team top to bottom was a great, great team and it was a lot of fun. I hope to be able to (play on a team with Bryce) again sometime.”

Bryan knows his path to Major League Baseball is going to be much longer than the year it took his little brother. He understands he needs to work on his consistency. And it’s consistency in his delivery and his mechanics.

He can’t help but think of the opportunity that he might have to get the chance to once again play on the same team as his brother. But Bryan’s focus right now is in the New-York Penn League and doing the things necessary to keep advancing through the Nationals’ system.

“It is tough to be patient, but you have to take it one step at a time,” Bryan said. “You can’t be worrying about taking that next step. You have to keep your head where your butt’s at.”

Bryan said he never threw batting practice to his little brother when they were growing up. When Bryan was a senior in high school and Bryce was a freshman, Bryan was still hitting. So they had their dad, Ron, throw batting practice to them.

About the only thing Bryan and Bryce really worked at together was when Bryce was still a catcher, he would catch Bryan’s bullpen sessions. And it’s because the two always played different positions that Bryan said he’s never felt like he’s been in Bryce’s shadow. As a pitcher, and with Bryce playing catcher and then outfield, the two positions just weren’t comparable.

“He’s probably the best catcher I’ll ever throw to just because we have that brother ESP thing,” Bryan said. “When I wanted to throw something, he know what I wanted to throw.”

It was weird seeing his brother play Major League Baseball for the first time. It was different just seeing his little brother playing in Dodger Stadium.

But it’s also been a motivating factor for Bryan. He wants to get to that point. He wants to get the opportunity again to be able to play alongside his brother.

“I think it’d be fun to play against him, but I think it’d be even better to play with him,” Bryan said. “But it’s fun to watch him now. It’s not as weird as everyone might think it would be. It makes me want to work harder and get up there to play with him. If anything, seeing him there is helping motivate me to get there quicker.”

 
 

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