By Bruce Levine–
WASHINGTON D.C. (CBS) — They have been friends, teammates and opponents for 18 years.
Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper are two of baseball’s biggest stars, and both are Las Vegas natives who made their way through youth leagues together.
As the Nationals League Division Series between their teams begins Friday night in Washington D.C., expectations are big for each player. They’re the two most recent NL MVP winners, with Harper taking the honor in 2015 before Bryant did so last year.
Throwing praise at one another is something that comes easy. Bryant admits he has been in awe of Harper since they first met around age 7.
“This is awesome,” Bryant said of facing Harper. “This is what you live for, to compete against your buddies on a stage like this. Usually, in club ball, it was fun to play against each other. I don’t think at that time we ever really dreamed of this. So it is definitely special for us.”
Bryant and Harper met Thursday and caught up. They discussed the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas late Sunday night that killed 58 people at a country music concert, and Bryant has already vowed to help in any way he can.
The two also chatted about lighter topics.
“I am just so happy for him and his success,” Bryant said. “Hopefully though, we kick his butt on the field.”
Bryant, 25, saw greatness in Harper, 24, from the time they first played ball on the Vegas sandlots. He also recalled a few instances, including the fear of facing Harper the pitcher at 12 and what Harper the batter sounded like at 7.
“He threw harder than anyone,” Bryant said. “The only thing I could think about was that if he hit me, I would not be able to stop crying for a week.
“He was a freak of nature. I can not explain how intimidated I was to watch him then. If you heard him hit in the batting cage, the sound coming off of the bat you never heard anywhere. He was 7 at the time. We have a ton of respect for each other. We are happy for each other. This is not about bragging rights. Bryce is such a good guy. I would not do that to him, and I am sure he would not do that to me.”
Harper also offered praise for Bryant, who’s hitting .263 with five homers and 13 RBIs in 26 career postseason games. Bryant has what Harper wants: a World Series ring.
“Kris is a great player,” Harper said. “In fact, he has been a great player our whole lives. I am not really worried about he will do. I always wish him the best, of course. We are going up against a great Cub team. We will try and do our thing. We will worry about what we can control.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.