By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant have a lot in common, and then again, they’re also as different as night and day. As the respective young stars of the Nationals and Cubs prepared to compete against each other Monday for the first time in the major leagues, they reflected on their history together.
Bryant and Harper grew up playing together in Las Vegas and are now expected to be two of the biggest stars in the game. The 22-year-old Harper about 10 months younger 23-year-old Bryant. Both are represented by super agent Scott Boras. During spring training, it became evident that the Cubs would ship Bryant back to the minor leagues to ensure they’d have contract control of him for a seventh season.
The service time issue became a national story, and in late March, Harper tweeted “Free Kris Bryant” in support of his pending minor league assignment. This was seen as helping Boras out in the perception game between the ballclub and agent.
“He needed to be in the big leagues,” Harper said on Monday. “I understand the business side of it. I understand what goes on that side. If I was the Cubs, I would have done the same thing.”
The respect for the fiery Harper is the same coming from the more reserved Bryant.
“We have very different personalities,” said Bryant, who began competing against Harper when he was nine. “I think that is good for the game. It’s great when you have guys who wear their heart on their sleeve. He is one of those guys. He plays so hard for his team. He is respectful but confident. Everybody can learn from that because to play this game, you have to be confident. You have to believe you are the best on the field. I do in a different way, and he does it. It’s pretty cool to see that.”
Bryant didn’t waste anytime taking initial bragging rights Monday. He hit a home run into the bleachers in the first inning Monday off Tanner Roark in what became an eventual 2-1 win for Washington.
“He is a great talent,” Harper said of Bryant. “He has a lot of power, very good at the plate. He knows what he wants to do. When we were young kids we called him ‘silk’ because he was so smooth in everything he did. He played third, shortstop, a little outfield, pitched. He is a great a great talent. I am excited for him.”
Bryant is a more laid-back type for sure you went to the University of San Diego for three years. Harper is an in-your-face type and more pugnacious, debuting in the big leagues in 2012 after starting pro baseball at 18. Both are killers on the field when it comes to the competitive juices flowing.
“We both took different paths,” Bryant said. “His was the unconventional route, that worked really good for him. For me it was the right thing to go to college and do my thing. It is cool that we both wound up in the same spot.”
Harper has a legit shot at the triple crown this season. He is leading the National League in home runs (16), RBIs (41) and is fifth in batting average (.333). It appears people mistake his brashness and confidence for arrogance at times.
“He is a great teammate and really respects the game,” National general manager Mike Rizzo told me. “This young man loves to play the game.”
Asked how it feels to be deemed baseball’s next superstar, Harper credited his team.
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “We have a great team, they make it fun. It’s been a lot of fun this year as a team, and we are a family in here. We win as a team and lose as a team. It doesn’t really matter if one guy is doing well or not. At the end of the day, that (winning) is all that matters.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.