Sunday, April 29, 2012

Once Hittin'...Bryce, Why?

Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals’ highly touted hope for the future, recorded his first Major League hit last night at Dodger Stadium. Smashing a Chad Billingsley fastball to the centerfield wall, Harper flung off his helmet while racing toward second base—an action commented upon both by the Nationals’ play-by-play announcer at the time and the ESPN anchorman during highlights the following morning.

Let's set the record straight right off the metaphorical and literal bats: I did this habitually in Little League and Senior League—well, as habitually as a player who hit in the low .200s could—and more because the helmet just annoyed me rather than for any trace of flash.

Yet, incorrectly, this is now a signature moment in Harper’s just-begun career.

I feel a little bit like Sam Rice, the (ironically) Washington Senators' outfielder who made an incredible catch while falling into the bleachers during the 1925 World Series, yet whose accomplishment has faded into near-obscurity because no film or videotape of it exists, unlike Willie Mays' oft-seen 1954 World Series catch.

It would have been nice—and fair—had ESPN mentioned during the highlight that I was discarding my helmet in abandon more than a decade before Harper’s birth. Okay, perhaps the Elias Sports Bureau doesn’t possess documentation on this, but just ask any of my teammates during the 1980-83 seasons. Or better yet, ask Pete Belafsky, the opposing catcher whom I caught napping as he adjusted his gear after a play without calling “time,” while I sprinted to an undefended plate just ahead of the pitcher racing from the mound—throwing off my helmet halfway down the line and signaling myself safe before the umpire did.

It’s been done, Bryce.

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