WASHINGTON -- Ron Harper said the birth of his grandson, Colton, was the highlight of 2012. But this past Monday night, about an hour after the Nationals won their first division title, Harper was on the infield grass with a wide grin on his face.
His son -- 19-year old Bryce Harper -- will play in his first postseason game later this week. The father didn't think the Nationals would get into the postseason this quickly, but he liked the work of general manager Mike Rizzo and the entire Nationals organization.
"I knew the direction that Mike Rizzo and [team owners] the Lerners were taking it," Ron Harper said. "The guys around Bryce -- Ryan Zimmerman had been hungry for a long time. All of these guys have been fighting through the dog days and the losses during the last five to seven years. You could see that it was bound to start happening last year with Davey Johnson being the manager and the way they turned things around. I don't think anybody expected it this soon."
After being called up to the big leagues on April 28, Bryce Harper became an integral part of the 2012 Nationals. Entering the last game of the regular season, Harper was hitting .270 with 22 home runs, 59 RBIs and a team-leading 97 run scored. Ron doesn't want to come off as arrogant, but he knew Bryce wasn't going back to the Minor Leagues once he hit the big time.
The dad remembers his son doing several interviews while he was in the Minor Leagues. In those interviews, Bryce vowed that he would never go back to the Minor Leagues once he was promoted to the big leagues.
"He said, 'When I get there, I don't want to go back,'" Ron Harper remembers. "He plays like his hair is on fire, like it's his last game he is ever going to play, and that's how you should play this game, every single game. ... He brought a lot of enthusiasm to this team. That's how Bryce will always play this game. A lot of people wonder if it's a facade. I know in my heart, it's not. He has played that way since he was 3 years old.
"I think he is doing great. He is 19 years old and he stayed in the big leagues. One thing that a lot of the [young players] didn't do at his age -- they didn't stay. Bryce went through some hills and valleys. He started off great, had some rough moments, and finished really strong. But for him to be able to work through it at his age and grow -- everybody could see the maturity and how he handled himself. I couldn't be more proud as a parent."
Bryce Harper was selected as a catcher in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. The day he was drafted, the Nationals announced that Harper would switch to the outfield. The team felt he would get to the big leagues quicker if he made the position switch.
These days, Harper plays every day in the outfield, mostly in center. He has played 138 games, has eight assists and made seven errors. How does the dad think he is doing in the outfield?
"I think he is a work in progress, like he has been all year," Ron Harper said. "He has proven he can play that position. He could have been a great catcher, I believe in my heart. But he can play all nine positions. He can pitch, he can catch, he can play any position on the field. Wherever the team needed him, that's where the team needed him. I think he filled in nicely for them."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.