"I had big butterflies going out there tonight," said Harper, who batted third in the order. "After that first pitch was thrown, I felt really good. I felt really solid at the plate. I had a good BP out there today. Our guys went out there, we played hard, that's what you should expect every game from us."
Major League Baseball was also on hand, with members of the
Commissioner's Office in attendance to authenticate several
pieces of memorabilia from Harper's debut. The haul included
a half-dozen game-used and autographed baseballs, the first
set of bases from the game, the lineup cards from both
managers and Harper's nameplate -- or the Class A equivalent, a yellow strip of paper -- from above his locker. All will eventually be auctioned off.
Harper took care of a few firsts right in the top of the
first inning of this South Atlantic League opener. His first
hit led to his first RBI. That was followed by his first
stolen base. He also picked up his first strikeout, in the
"I was really excited to get up there," said Harper, who
faced Braves left-handed pitching prospect Carlos Perez in
his first two trips to the plate. "When I got those two base
hits, I felt really good. When I went up there for that
third at-bat, I think he was throwing me two-seams. They
were a couple of inches out, I shouldn't have been swinging
at it. But when I see that fastball, it looks like a balloon
to me. I need to be a little bit more patient, get my pitch
a little bit more."
Harper worked the count full against Perez in his first
official at-bat. He was out in front of a Perez offspeed
offering, but managed to loop a single to center field to
bring in Hagerstown's first run of the season.
In his second at-bat, Harper showed off some of his baseball
acumen. With a runner on first and one out in the third
inning, Harper saw that Rome third baseman Edward Salcedo
was playing deep and pushed a perfect bunt in his direction
for his second hit of the day. Harper had stolen second
after his first-inning hit and that, combined with him
busting down the line on the bunt, showed he can contribute
with his legs as well as his bat.
"I think that's huge about my game," said Harper, who then
got picked off as part of a successful double steal that
plated the Suns' second run. "If I can lay one down, get on
base, get a runner over, I think that's huge. It helped us
out and that's all that matters to us.
"I saw him back, and I saw [Braves shortstop Matt] Lipka
behind second base and I was like, 'OK, if they want to
throw that at me, I throw this one at them.' And it worked
"He has all the tools, and he showed them all tonight,"
Hagerstown manager Brian Daubach said. "He bunted a couple
of times in Spring Training. It was definitely a spot where
the situation called for it. He's just a baseball player, and
he showed all aspects of it tonight. He played an aggressive
game, and that's what he does every day.
"I've seen a lot of guys with that, but I've never played
with a kid that young. I don't think anybody has. He should
be a senior in high school. He definitely has the aggressive
mentality, and we just want to keep moving forward."
The only things missing from Harper's debut were a long ball
-- though he put on his typical display in batting practice -- and a sense of excitement and anticipation from the crowd on hand for the opener here. It wasn't lost on Rome manager
Matt Walbeck, who was in the opposing dugout in Altoona, Pa., a year ago when Stephen Strasburg made a more buzz-inducing pro debut.
"I noticed that, too," Walbeck said. "I still think it was a
pretty exciting game, at least to watch him play in his
debut, if you're really in the know of baseball. I think
also A ball and Double-A, there's somewhat of a different
dynamic. But for some reason, it just wasn't the same."
Much like he did during his stints in the Arizona Fall
League and Spring Training big league camp, Harper fulfilled
his biggest goals: fitting in as one of the guys and helping
his team win.
"Any time we can go out there and get a win, I think that's
huge," Harper said. "We got great pitching tonight, they
kept us in it. We won a good ballgame.
"I really think I'm still one of those guys. We have a great
team. We have a lot of good guys that are going to play hard
for us. We're a family out there. We jelled pretty well.
Everybody's getting along in the clubhouse. I love it. It's
a blast. It's everything I ever wanted to do."