Bryce Harper just finished up his introductory press conference at Nationals Park, flanked by Nationals GM Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras. But the show mostly belonged to the 17-year-old, who said all the right things and had enough one-liners to keep reporters laughing. Here are the highlights, and my observations, from the 20-minute press conference:
--If it wasn't apparent already, Harper isn't awed or fazed by much of the attention he's getting. He talked about hanging out with Albert Pujols at the All-Star Game ("He's just a down-to-earth guy. He's one of the guys I want to be around," Harper said), taking batting practice in three big-league ballparks before Nationals Park (both the old and new Yankee Stadiums and Tampa's Tropicana Field) and referred to Rizzo, the GM he knew probably would draft him, as "just another guy in the stands" when Rizzo came to watch Harper play in April. It's a little sad, from my view, that he hasn't had more of a childhood. But it also means the Nationals are getting a more polished product than you'd usually find at age 17.
--He's also a pro at working a room already. He said he wasn't sure how long he would keep the mohawk he was sporting, and attributed to his sister, who's a beautician and "tries different things on me." And then, he added, "The ladies like it, so..." Harper dutifully dropped the names of his coaches throughout high school, and said his first big purchase would be to fix the dent in his 2000 Toyota Tacoma, which Harper said has more than 100,000 miles on it. When it was suggested to him he could buy a new one, Harper said, "Why?" And he said he enjoyed seeing his labrador a few more times throughout the summer. Asked if he'd take the dog to Florida with him, Harper said, "I couldn't do that to my mom." There's no question Harper's more of a PR package than Stephen Strasburg. He dropped plenty of homespun sound bytes on Thursday.
--Harper mentioned several times how his summer break from baseball was eating him up; he said it would have been "a good fit" had he gone back to the College of Southern Nevada for another year, but added he's happy to be a National. To stay in shape, he said, he lifted weights, hit in the cages and worked out with Las Vegas High School's football team, running routes as a receiver and catching footballs as a way of learning to track line drives in the outfield, where the Nationals will play him."
--Asked about the development of his swing - a compact power stroke that's allowed Harper to hit 500-foot homers and already win praise from Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein - Harper said his father, Ron, was instrumental in helping him hone his stroke. "My dad has been huge in everything that I've done," Harper said. "He's absolutely incredible with my swing, and he knows it better than anybody. So to have him around and have him help me with everything after my games and stuff, he taught me my whole swing."
--Rizzo laid out the plan for Harper once again: He will go to Viera, Fla., to work out with the Nationals' Gulf Coast League team (though he won't play any games there), and begin playing during the Nationals' fall instructional league. Rizzo said the Arizona Fall League is a possibility. "We're going to take that step by step, and he'll prepare for spring training next season," Rizzo said.
--In response to a question about seeing Little Leaguers wearing smeared eye black - Harper's trademark - at the Little League World Series, Harper said, "There's a lot of little kids that look up to you. To be able to start a trend like that, it's pretty great." Rizzo has said Harper will not be allowed to wear the faux-war paint look with the Nationals. "I loved wearing the eye black. It was me," Harper said. "That's what made me Bryce. I didn't wear it for the first couple games, and I struggled. I put it on, and something just happened. It was electric."
--As he did with Strasburg, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman presented Harper with his first Nationals jersey - No. 34, which Harper wore through high school. He said as a kid, he loved Mickey Mantle, but switched to No. 34 when No. 7 was taken on one of his teams. Zimmerman helped Harper put on the jersey over his black shirt and pink tie. MASN play-by-play man Bob Carpenter called Zimmerman the face of the franchise and said "he hands out the jerseys," to which Zimmerman responded, "I'm going to get that in my next contract."
If you've got any other questions about Harper, the press conference or plans for him, leave them in the comments section.