The one-year anniversary of a special beginning

A year ago today, Bryce Harper threw on a Nationals jersey for the first time.

The then-19-year-old started his big league career by going 1-for-3 with a rocket of a double, tossing his helmet to the Dodger Stadium dirt as he made a violent turn around first base and sprinted for second.

Since his highly-anticipated debut, Harper has played 162 games. His numbers look more like what you expect out of an eight-year veteran than a first-year player who can’t legally buy a beer.

Harper has hit .284 with 31 homers and 77 RBIs over those first 162 games. His on-base percentage is a lofty .356, he’s slugging .518 and he’s stolen 19 bases.

Most players would kill for those numbers. But Harper’s just getting started.

This season, Harper is hitting .373/.453/.783. He has nine home runs, 18 RBIs, 12 walks and just 13 strikeouts. He leads the Nationals in average, on-base-percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, RBIs, hits and walks. He leads the majors in slugging percentage and OPS.

Harper is currently on pace to hit 62 homers and drive in 122. No big deal.

“Special. No question he’s an unbelievable talent,” Denard Span said. “I compare it to 2009 when I was teammates with Joe Mauer, watching him win the MVP. Every day he was doing something to help us win, whether it was calling a good game or coming through with a big hit. For the first month, that’s what I’ve seen out of Bryce.”

Harper has made such a smooth transition to big league play that it feels like he’s been at this level for years. Plural. Instead, it’s just been the one, making this level of play even more remarkable.

“It’s unbelievable,” Tyler Clippard said. “He doesn’t play like a 20-year-old. And when he got here last year, he didn’t play like a 19-year-old.”

For Harper, looking back doesn’t serve much purpose. He has no need to reflect on the last year of his life when bigger things are to come and the next game is always a day away.

But when asked about the last year following yesterday’s game, in which he blasted yet another home run, Harper took a second to think about the journey that he’s been on over his 365 days as a big leaguer.

“It was pretty quick,” Harper said. “I had a fun year last year and I think being able to have a team and an organization that really brought me in with open arms and gave me the opportunity to play in the big leagues last year, I was so fortunate. Having a group of guys around me that really took me under their wing and said, ‘Hey, you’re with us now, and we’re ready to go.’ It’s been like that ever since then.”

A little over a year ago, Harper was suiting up for Triple-A Syracuse, playing games in front of dozens of fans. He’s now thrilling tens of thousands at Nationals Park and making a case for himself as one of the elite players in the game - just 162 games into his major league tenure.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” Harper said. “I just want to think about today, I’m not thinking about tomorrow or what happened a year ago. I’m excited to see what happens in the future for our team and it’s going to be a great year.”

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