Harper brothers hope to come together in Majors
Bryce's older sibling and mentor, Bryan, pitching in Class A in Nationals organization
A decade ago, Bryce Harper was picking up tips and habits from his mentor and older brother, Bryan. Now, having reached the Major Leagues before the age of 20, Bryce is trying to return the favor.
The Nationals' 19-year-old phenom admits he has passed along some tidbits about the Majors to Bryan, a left-handed pitching prospect trying to work his way through the Nationals organization. However, that doesn't mean the brothers have switched mentoring roles just yet.
"I don't know if I'm a mentor to him," Bryce said. "I think there's just some things that he asked me about pro ball that I told him about, but he's a mentor to me. I look up to my older brother, I always have looked up to my older brother. Anything he needs, I'm always there for him, and likewise. Whenever I need anything, he's there for me."
If things work out as planned, the two will be reunited in the big leagues someday. After all, Bryan was fortunate enough to be drafted into the Nationals organization in 2011 -- for the second time.
The elder Harper, 22, was originally selected by Washington out of high school in the 31st round in 2008. But instead he played one season at Cal State-Northridge before transferring to the College of Southern Nevada, where he played alongside Bryce for the 2010 season.
After that, Bryce was selected first overall in the First-Year Player Draft, while Bryan was picked in the 27th round by the Cubs. Bryan again elected not to sign and instead transferred to the University of South Carolina, where he was a member of the 2011 College World Series-champion Gamecocks.
"Being a part of that was awesome, just a great experience," Bryan said. "Just being a part of that [the Southeastern Conference] is really a culture shock coming out from the West Coast. It was a lot of fun, though."
Not long after the Gamecocks raised the trophy in Omaha, Bryan was again selected by the Nationals, this time in the 30th round. With his younger brother already in the organization, Bryan chose to forgo his final year of college eligibility and sign with the Nats.
"It's not only great for me and him, but I think [playing together] would be great for our family," Bryce said. "I think my Mom and Dad would be just so thankful for that, being able to watch us play at the big league level together and being on the same team, battling out games and whatnot."
For the time being, however, their parents are forced to split their attention between Washington and Auburn, N.Y., where Bryan is playing with the Class A Auburn Doubledays. As tough as it is on the parents, it might be even tougher on the brothers.
With both players' seasons in full swing -- and overlapping gametimes nearly every day -- it's difficult enough for the siblings to find time to talk to one another, let alone watch each other play. For brothers as close as the Harpers, it's certainly not an easy task.
"It is harder to keep up. It's just a simple text message here and there," Bryan said. "Maybe if he has an off-day, he'll give me a phone call or something in the morning. But right now, with the season going on, we're on the same schedule, so it's kind of hard to communicate because we're trying to sleep when we have time. So just quick simple texts."
It's a whole different story once the season ends. Bryce and Bryan not only train together in the offseason, but also live together in their home city of Las Vegas. One of Bryan's closest childhood friends, Donn Roach -- who himself just finished off an impressive season in the Padres' organization after reaching an innings limit -- joins the pair in their workouts.
"It's kind of surreal seeing all your friends playing at these levels, especially Bryce being in the big leagues and doing well," Roach said. "It's really cool to all be where we are, it's hard to even explain."
Whether it's working out, playing Xbox or just having dinner together, Bryan said the ability to be around his younger brother nonstop in the offseason is "just the best."
"In the offseason, we're together every single day, we do everything together," Bryce said. "It's my brother. Having family close and being able to be with him in the offseason, also going into Spring Training and whatnot, I think it's a lot of fun for me and him, a lot of fun for our family."
Just like with most siblings, there is a competitive rivalry -- but it seems to have always been of a healthy nature. Sure, Bryce finds himself in the big leagues already, but he's the first to admit that he doesn't automatically have a leg up on his older brother.
After all, Bryan has achieved some accomplishments of his own in the past year or two that Bryce never got to experience.
"I think him being able to say, 'Hey, I won a national title at one of the best schools in the country,' and getting his degree and whatnot, I think that was the biggest thing for him," Bryce said. "He was really smart in school; he wanted to get his degree. That was the biggest thing."
Bryan's biggest goal now is pretty obvious -- working his way through the Minors to one day toe the rubber in Washington with his brother standing a couple hundred feet behind him in center field. Bryan has some work to do to make that dream a reality -- he's off to a trying start in the New York-Penn League -- but Bryce is hoping it won't be too long before he gets to spend more than four months a year with his big brother.
"He just battles, and that's what he's going to do. He's going to battle for our team and he's going to battle for our organization," Bryce said. "That's his No. 1 goal, to make it to the big leagues. I think he'll make that dream come true one day."