Before Bryce Harper was the top pick in the Major League Baseball draft, before he signed the sport’s biggest contract ever for a first-year pro, he gambled his future on one make-or-break season.
The Las Vegas High School sophomore had already dominated the competition like Mickey Mantle on the playground and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which dubbed him the "most exciting prodigy since LeBron James".
Seeking greater tests as a hitter, the precocious phenom got his GED and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada, where he could face pro prospects in a challenging wooden-bat league that prohibited the hitter-friendly aluminum bats used throughout college ball. Harper shattered the school’s home run record with 31 (the previous mark was 12) and compiled a startling 1.513 OPS while leading his team to the Junior College World Series. For his heroics, the 17-year-old became the only position player from a junior college to win the Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation’s best amateur baseball player.
Las Vegas sportswriter Rob Miech was "embedded" with the Southern Nevada Coyotes team and brings us along for the ride - into the dugout and locker room and on team buses and in motel rooms, from the scorched fields to the snow-capped horizons of the Scenic West Athletic Conference - to deliver a warts-and-all account of a boy among men playing like a man among boys. Amid the media circus that descended upon team and town, we read fascinating personal stories including the dynamics between veteran coach Tim Chambers and Harper’s protective father, the camaraderie with - and jealousies of - other players, the fans and autograph seekers (and girls) who all want a piece of the young star, and how Harper is suspended from the World Series after protesting an umpire’s call, and the role his faith plays in his life.
The Last Natural shows us a season in the life of baseball’s top rising star, culminating in a dramatic conclusion when Harper is drafted number-one by the Washington Nationals and, after tense negotiations that go up until just seconds before the midnight deadline, signs a $9.9 million contract. Even more than this, Miech’s book is the story of a team and its community, the hopes and aspirations of its players and coaches, and the spirit of pure baseball that lies at the heart of the American dream.
I was nearing the end of this audio book while watching the Nationals vs. Tigers. There was Bryce, yelling from the dugout at the umpire, subsequently getting ejected from the game; it was the bottom of the 9th, tie ball game, and Bryce was due up in 3 batters. His acting skills of shock and disbelief responding to the audacious umpire, that singled him out, lets you know he has a post baseball job in Hollywood. I like everyone else (except Clint Robinson) believed that we were heading for extra innings; but Clint decides he'd end it right there with a walk-off home run (Clint actually thought it was only the 8th inning). The team rushes the field to welcome Clint at home base and Bryce emerges from the locker room to join the team in celebration, but he's more interested in telling the umpire Brian Knight to "F off"; all captured on a live broadcast for the world to see.
The aforementioned story is pertinent because this book is about how Bryce Harper has come to this unfortunate moment. He's still a kid, but one who's been in the media spotlight since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16. He boldly left high school early to join a wood bat junior college team in order to raise his stock for the MLB draft. He destroyed school and league records while helping the College of Southern Nevada do the same to the competition. They continued to do this all the way to the Junior College World Series when another Harper/Umpire disagreement resulted in disaster and heartbreak.
Bryce is deeply in love with the game of baseball and he wants others to love it as much. He's dedicated to his fans and soon-to-be fans. He wants to be a role model and "make baseball fun again." But he's caught between his on-the-field passion (often to the point of disaster and embarrassment) for winning and off-the-field rearing by his family, his coaches and teammates, his Mormon culture, and his personal views of who he wants to be.
This book is definitely about Bryce Harper, but it's also about his upbringing, his baseball tenacity, the College of Southern Nevada's amazing season run at greatness, his teammates who both supported and loved Bryce as well as having dreams of their own, as well as a inimitable inside look into the personality, development, and growth of a baseball prodigy.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
I was expecting a riveting, up close and at least semi-personal look at one of the most compelling young ball players in recent memory. Instead, I felt like I was being treated to a row 40 upper deck view of a tiny figure on the ball field I could barely see. Oh, it had lots of unnecessary filler recapping the careers of ballplayers that I have no interest in, distracting at best and even less well enjoyed. The whole thing could have been done in shortened form on Grantlands or some such blog and not muddled up the audible industry with a worthless production. The narration was very good and not at fault for a poor offering.
1 of 3 people found this review helpful