Over the past few days, multiple media organizations have written posts questioning the maturity and the makeup of baseball's top prospect, Bryce Harper. Whether the critique comes as a result of lack of material for these outlets, or if it is a legitimate concern, is up in the air. However, with athlete's personal lives in the media more than ever before, Harper's life off the field will be even more under the microscope than his play on it.
The question about Harper's maturity was again risen this month when he compared himself to Joe Namath in an interview this winter, saying he would like to be able to be a star on the field but enjoy the night life off of it. It seems the real conversation began this week, however, when the Washington Post's Jason Reid wrote a column titled, 'Bryce Harper Need To Grow Up.'
"He is only making things harder for himself and the Nationals, “and we’re not glossing over it,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said Monday. “We’re not just saying that he’s a 19-year-old kid and that he’s making typical 19-year-old mistakes. He’s a different case. He’s a special-case scenario. This guy is in the public eye. . . . When this guy tweets it out, or says something, it can go viral. There’s a difference here. We recognize it.”
In Harper's defense, Craig Calcaterra of HardballTalk, one of the great voices in baseball blogging, said he's just being a 19-year-old, and this is what 19-year-old's do.
"Point is: while I cringe — often — at the things Harper says and does, it’s no different than me cringing at the kids riding their skateboards around my neighborhood, imploring them to get off my lawn and the like. Sure, it’d be cool if a young stud athlete like Harper had an unnatural maturity because it would be interesting to witness, but really, the kid is just being a kid and that’s OK...As long as they’re not abusing drugs and causing real chaos, let youth be young. As long as we don’t get consumed with bitterness, let old people roll our eyes at it. That’s the natural freaking order of things, and I really hope that never changes.
The Washington Post also had a round table to discuss the topic, featuring Nats beat writer Adam Kilgore, blogger Dan Steinberg, and for some reason...LaVar Arrington...
Now for my take:
I am only 24-years-old, so I remember quite well what I was like when I was 19. My 24-year-old self probably would have been a little annoyed at 19-year-old me. While I was generally a good kid, I wasn't super easy to get along with in some ways. I always thought I was right because, after all, I had graduated high school and had a year of college under my belt, what could anyone have known or experienced that I didn't already? I clearly hadn't learned at the time that the older I got the more wisdom I accumulated, and that even if I used all the information I had at my disposal, I could clearly do something wrong, or brash, or just stupid.
But I made mistakes, and I saw my friends make mistakes, and I grew up. If you were to ask me, I probably grew more as a person in terms of maturity between 18-22 than I did in high school. I think anyone who thinks the maturation process ends upon the graduation of high school is kidding themselves. Real life experiences teach you way more than a classroom or a baseball field can.
One characteristic that described 19-year-old me more than any other was that I was stubborn. If I had someone telling me I was immature, I sure as hell wasn't going to learn how to grow up, I would just be defiant. Clearly you can see this in Harper's behavior. When he defends his stance on what team to root for, on saying he wants to party, holding his ground on his words, he's being a 19-year-old...I think the world needs to let him decide whether or not those are appropriate things to say.
With all that said, I am happy that the D.C. media does not coddle him. I spent time in Ohio during LeBron James upbringing, and his 19-year-old tendency's were allowed to be made permanent because he was placed on a pedestal. You can't learn humility if you are never humbled. I pray to god that Harper doesn't turn out that way. The best case scenario for the Nationals is that he gains the wisdom of former phenom Josh Hamilton, but obviously without the tumultuous career path.
It will be a very interesting few years for Harper, and it will at times be hard to watch. But I think that's what we need to do. Watch. Let him fail. Let him succeed. Let him be 19, for now, so that he can be an adult at 24.