Count Harper as longtime admirer of Yanks

Count Harper as longtime admirer of Yanks

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper grew up during a dominant era of Yankees baseball, so without any local teams to root for, the Las Vegas native cheered for New York.

The 19-year-old rookie faced the Yankees on Friday at Nationals Park, where he hit second and played center field for the Nats, as he continues to cross marquee first-time matchups off his list. It was a series at Fenway Park last week -- Harper homered in his debut there. Now it's the 27-time World Series champions.

"That whole team is under a microscope, they all have targets on them. They're the New York Yankees," Harper said. "For all of them to come in here and play their game, know how to play and not worry about anything else around them, is huge. That's what I'm trying to do also."

Harper is a well-documented student of the game, and that includes Yankees history. He tries to emulate Mickey Mantle's style of play, but pointed out it's not just the Yankees great he models his game after.

"Cal Ripken Jr., Mickey Mantle, George Brett, Pete Rose -- there's a lot of guys that I really look up to," Harper said.

That includes Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, who spent the entirety of their careers in the same type of spotlight Harper has operated under since he was 15 years old.

"Jeter's the face of baseball," Harper said. "He's going to be a Hall of Famer. If I can come out here and play the game like him ... I think I'll be OK."

Harper said he did not have any plans to speak to any Yankees during batting practice, saying "I don't like to bother people." But he received a text of support recently from Robinson Cano, whose left-handed swing compares to Harper's.

Harper approached Cano during his first Spring Training in 2010, and the pair have kept in touch periodically since.

"He can throw, run, hit," Cano said. "The thing is, he's only 19. I know he's going to be criticized and things, but I hope people understand he's only 19, and it's very hard to come up to this level with this opportunity to learn and improve. Sometimes you've got to say, 'He's a young kid, he's not even 20 yet.' Hopefully he learns quick and soon, because he's got all the talent to be here for a long time."