WASHINGTON – Bryce Harper took batting practice at Nationals Park for the first time Thursday and sent a home run into the upper deck in right field.
The 17-year-old left-handed hitter sprayed several more homers around the park, to left, center and right, with the Washington Nationals brass standing nearby.
When the Nationals introduced 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick Stephen Strasburg a year ago, they set off fireworks. Harper, the first selection of 2010, supplied fireworks of his own, just by showing off his powerful but compact swing.
"It felt like home," Harper said. "It was a blast going out there and hitting with a couple of the guys. I'm like a little kid in a candy store right now. It's a lot of fun to go out there and show what I've got and be able to hit it in the upper deck."
Harper was then formally introduced by the Nationals, a week and a half after agreeing to a $9.9 million, five-year deal. They covered up his mohawk by giving him a red, curly "W'' hat that was about two sizes too big. His jersey number is 34 — because three plus four equals the No. 7 worn by one of his childhood favorites, Mickey Mantle.
"My sister is a beautician," he said, explaining his new hairdo, "so she tries different things on me. The ladies like it."
If Strasburg is the next great pitching phenom, Harper is supposed to be the hitting equivalent. He skipped his final two years of high school and got his GED so he could make the jump to JUCO ball at the College of Southern Nevada, which plays in a league that uses wood bats. He tore up the league, hitting .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBIs.
It'll be a while before he hits home runs at Nationals Park for real. His next stop is Florida, where he will work out with the Nationals' Gulf Coast League affiliate and then play in the Florida Instructional League. It's undecided whether he'll then play in the Arizona Fall League before reporting for spring training next year.
But Harper will have to give up a few things as he fulfills his professional dream. The Nationals have told him he can't wear the war paint-style eye black that Little Leaguers have started to copy. He is also reluctantly being moved from catcher to outfield — his favorite Nationals player is Ivan Rodriguez.
"I'm going to miss it a lot," Harper said. "Being out there and being able to take control of the whole game."