Bryce Harper manned left field in his Double-A debut Monday.
(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

HARRISBURG, PA -- It's 119 miles from Metro Bank Park in Harrisburg, PA -- home of the Washington Nationals' Double-A affiliate -- to Nationals Park in Washington D.C.  Bryce Harper can't get there soon enough -- for the Nats organization, for the ever-increasing residents of Nats Town, or for himself and his family, what would be the culmination of a lifetime of dreams.  Even if that lifetime still only encompasses 18 years.

Yesterday, Monday, July 4, on the day Americans celebrate their nation's independence, Bryce Harper celebrated his debut in Double-A ball, playing left field and batting sixth for the Harrisburg Senators.  Is it at least somewhat fitting the Washington organization made Harper a Senator on Independence Day?  The holiday, combined with Harper's first game, produced a Harrisburg record attendance of 8,092 -- more than for any start by last year's phenom, Stephen Strasburg.  Not that it's a competition.

Harper did what he's always done when he's between the foul lines: play ball.  He took the first pitch he saw in Double-A and lined it to right field for a clean single, and later scored as he and his new teammates batted around in the first inning and took a 5-0 lead off Erie Seawolves starter Mark Sorenson.  Leading off the third inning he was late on an outside fastball and popped out foul to the third baseman.

Harper steps in against Erie in his Double-A debut.
(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
The No. 1 overall pick in 2010 led off again in the fifth against reliever Jared Gayheart and greeted the new pitcher with a single through the hole on the right side.  "I just tried to go up there and get a pitch to hit," Harper explained after the game. "I think it was a sinker down and away. These past couple of games in Hagerstown I haven't been swinging so well so I got in the cage with Troy [Gingrich, Harrisburg's batting coach] and really got going, and looked for a pitch I could drive."

When the next batter, outfielder Archie Gilbert, hit a slow roller to third with Harper running on the pitch, Harper didn't even slow down at second when the third baseman made the throw to first, continuing on to third base and beating the throw back from the first baseman with plenty to spare.  That's right, in his first game in Double-A, Harper went first-to-third on a ground out.

"I probably should have gotten hit my next at bat," Harper only half-joked. "After thinking about it a little, I..." he paused to gather himself before continuing. "It worked out. That's all I can say."

Bryce Harper, rounding second on a ground out, out in his debut.
(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Harper walked in the seventh against another reliever and was, unfortunately, on deck when Harrisburg made their last out in the eighth.  All told, Harper went 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in his first game in the new league.  Heady stuff from a guy that won't turn 19 until October.

Most fans know how young Harper is, but probably don't understand just how young he is compared to the level of competition he's playing against, especially now that he's moved up a level.  He has teammates in Harrisburg 11 years older than he is. He is not only the youngest player on the Senators roster, he's the youngest player in the entire Eastern League.

Harper spoke of having some nerves before the contest, but sought counsel from second baseman Josh Johnson, a player Harper became friendly with in spring training. "J.J. really calmed me down. He just told me to go out there and go play the game you know how to play, just exactly like you've been doing your whole life.  I told him thank you for settling me down and talking to me."

Harper will only be with his new teammates for a few days before he heads out to Arizona to particiapte in the Futures Game, part of the MLB's All-Star fesivities, an honor he'll share with last night's starting pitcher for Harrisburg, Brad Peacock. Harper's looking forward to the experience, but knows that Double-A is where his attention needs to be.  "It's always an honor to go out there and play in those types of games, but I'm still focused right here, right now and I'm looking forward to the next day, and the next day, and I'm really excited to get going here."

Asked what he hoped to concentrate on now that he's moved up a level, Harper sounded like he already has a plan.  "Try to get my walks up. You know, walks up, strikeouts down. Trying to stay on base, try to make things happen for my club and try to get better each day in the outfield."

Harper's new manager, Tony Beasley, just wants to be there for his new left fielder in any manner he can.  "He's an 18-year old kid. He's gonna make mistakes. He's probably going to say some things sometimes without thinking. From what I've gathered though he's a good kid, he's a hard player and he wants to be successful at the game and we just have to do our part to try to aid him along in that."

As for the rest of the game, Harrisburg won in a big way, 8-1, upping their record to 48-34 for the season.  Peacock was again masterful, going six innings on a hot and muggy night, allowing one unearned run on five hits and two walks, striking out nine.  He had command of his 93-MPH fastball, change-up and especially his curveball, getting his opponent to flail at his 73-MPH hook time and again. He lowered his ERA to 2.01 with an impressive 129/23 K/BB ratio, increasing his record to 10-2.

Brad Peacock delivers in Harrisburg's 8-1 win Monday.
(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Catching prospect Derek Norris had a big night, going 3-for-4 with two home runs (one to right field and the second to left), a double, a walk and three RBIs, and DH Bill Rhinehart hit two home runs and drove in three.

But the big story, as it will remain for the length of his stay in Pennsylvania's capital, was Bryce Harper.  It's a short trip from Harrisburg to the Nation's Capital, about two hours by car.  Harper will probably have to make a detour in Syracuse before he can head to D.C., but as long as he remains healthy and does what he's always done between the lines, it shouldn't take him long to get there.

Nats Town can hardly wait.

DH Bill Rhinehart connects for one of his two home runs. 
(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)
Derek Norris recieved congratulations on his home run in the first inning.
(C.Nichols/Nats News Network)

4 comments

  1. Biff // July 5, 2011 at 6:10 AM  

    Great job and thanks for keeping us up to date.

  2. Andrew // July 5, 2011 at 8:00 AM  

    Great read. Thanks.

  3. perry // July 5, 2011 at 9:06 AM  

    Dave, Do the Nats plan on keeping Peacock at AA the rest of the year or move him to AAA or even the ML?

  4. Will Bentzel // July 6, 2011 at 7:03 PM  

    Hopefully you don't mind me posting this but here is a link to photos I took from Harper's Debut: http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/gen/milb/photogallery/standard/year_2011/month_07/day_05/cf21436034.html