Bryce Harper blows a kiss at pitcher
Bryce Harper's first year of professional baseball has had its share of highs and lows -- sometimes on the same play.
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The Washington Nationals outfield prospect had another of those moments on Monday night, blowing a kiss to the opposing pitcher after hitting a home run in Hagerstown's 3-2 loss to Greensboro in the Class A South Atlantic League.
With the game scoreless in the sixth inning, Harper hit a home run to right-center field and took a few seconds to admire his handiwork from the batters' box before slowly tossing his bat aside and heading to first.
Greensboro pitcher Zachary Neal apparently didn't care for Harper's display and let Harper know how he felt as he rounded the bases, according to media reports. Harper replied by puckering up in Neal's direction as he reached home plate.
On Harper's next trip to the plate, with Hagerstown trailing 3-2 in the eighth, Greensboro relief pitcher Grant Dayton backed Harper off the plate with a high and inside first pitch. Harper connected with the second, but his long fly ball was caught at the fence.
"I just missed it by an inch," Harper said, according to the Hagerstown Herald-Mail. "It was a curve up and I just missed it. I thought it was out ... I get it out and it ties the game up and gives us a chance to go extra innings."
Just hit your home runs and hit 'em like you're used to hitting 'em, not like you're surprised when you hit one.” -- Mike Schmidt, on his advice
to Nationals prospect Bryce Harper
The incident was treated as a learning experience for Harper and his teammates and was handled within the team, a Nationals source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
"This was taken as a teaching moment for Bryce Harper and this entire Hagerstown club," the source said. "Twenty-five to 30 guys learn a group lesson as to the right way to play this game. So, the matter was talked about internally and is now considered closed."
Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 16 and accelerated his way into college, setting himself up to be the No. 1 overall pick by the Nationals in last year's draft. He signed a $9.9 million contract, the biggest payday for a drafted position player.
On ESPN's "SportsCenter," Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt -- who hit 548 career homers -- advised Harper to "tone it down and play the game."
"I would say Bryce, if you're going to hit a lot of 'em ... you'd better learn not to show up the pitcher because it's just going to get tougher and tougher on you if you watch your home runs," Schmidt said. "Just hit your home runs and hit 'em like you're used to hitting 'em, not like you're surprised when you hit one."
Asked what would happen if Harper had behaved in similar fashion in the majors, Schmidt said the benches would have likely cleared.
"I hate to bring this into it, but I would think at some point the game itself, the competition on the field, is going to have to figure out a way to police this young man," Schmidt said. "If indeed his manager won't, the game will end up taking care of it."
While some Nationals fans are clamoring for Harper to be promoted to the struggling major league team, much of Harper's game remains a work in progress.
"One of the biggest sins you can make is putting guys into position where they're going to fail early," said Doug Harris, who keeps a close in-person eye on Harper as the Nationals' director of player development. "We're really committed, but lay the blocks before we try to put in some chandeliers and some granite countertops. We want to make sure we've built a good foundation, not only on the field but in the clubhouse."
Harper validated Harris' point perfectly in a game last Thursday. While the headline will forever record that Harper hit his first walkoff homer with the Suns -- a two-run shot in the bottom of the 10th for a 9-8 win over Greenville -- the details reveal that earlier in the game he was twice erased from the bases by simple mistakes. He was picked off in the first inning, then got caught in a rundown in the fifth trying to advance on a ball in the dirt.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.