PORTLAND — Picking his spots and mindful of his role, Elliott Speirs talked with the only other teenager in the Harrisburg Senators’ clubhouse. The 16-year-old batboy for the visiting team and Bryce Harper, the 18-year-old outfielder touted as the No. 1 prospect in America.

Try as he might, Speirs could not put himself in Harper’s shoes. “I kept telling myself there’s only two years difference and I play baseball, too, but there’s no way I can even imagine being him. No way.”

Harper strained his right hamstring last week and isn’t playing in the three-game series with the Portland Sea Dogs that ends today. Monday night he stood or sat in the Harrisburg dugout near Speirs. Harper was living Speirs’ dream. Their age and little else gave them a tenuous connection.

Harper is the phee-nom. Speirs and the rest of us are just commoners.

In a pre-ESPN, pre-Internet world, Bryce Harper might have been allowed to grow up and pay his dues with none of us keeping tabs. Today there are no secrets and no patience.

He’s been ejected after throwing his batting helmet in anger. He’s blown a kiss to a pitcher after hitting a home run, and it’s dissected again and again. He was hitting only .256 before his hammy started hurting and really, ask some, how phenomenal is that?


He made the cover of Sports Illustrated at 18. The scrutiny won’t stop.

“I can imagine the pressure he feels,” said Nick Costa of Cumberland, R.I., another 16-year-old. “Fan pressure. (Media) pressure. Organization pressure. Can he meet his own expectations?

“It’s his world now. He can accept it or give it up. I think he’ll be fine. He’ll be the face of baseball by the time he’s 22.”

Costa sat with his father, Bob, a school teacher, in the reserved seats to the right of the Harrisburg dugout. They have tickets to all three games of the Senators-Sea Dogs series. The seats were a reward to the younger Costa for his strong schoolwork last year. He’s also a catcher, the position Harper played before he was converted to an outfielder.

Nick Costa wore a red Senators jersey with Harper’s name and number 34 on the back. He got it weeks ago in anticipation of the trip to Portland. Before I left, he held up a baseball with Harper’s autograph.

“Got it before the game,” said Costa, who had stood near the Harrisburg clubhouse in the Portland Expo. “He almost walked away, but he turned and came back.”


Costa felt lucky and he should. Harper doesn’t speak to the media and there are security issues. More people want a piece of the phenom. Monday, says Costa, Harper poked his head from the dugout and signed a few autographs. Suddenly there was a rush of fans to that narrow corner of Hadlock.

“It was crazy,” said Costa. “It got a little out of hand.” Tuesday, Harper watched the game from the bullpen.

That’s part of what Speirs can’t imagine. You’re 18 and you’re grabbed at like a rock star and all you do is swing a bat exceptionally well.

Weeks before the game, the Sea Dogs started selling Bryce Harper shirts. That was precedent-setting. No one thought or wanted to sell Vladimir Guerrero shirts when he came through Portland with the Senators years ago.

Sell a shirt of an 18-year-old player from a rival team? Unthinkable.

All 96 shirts were sold out before Harrisburg arrived, although only a few were spotted Tuesday in a quick walk around the ballpark. Harper-mania indeed.


He’s not the first phenom to walk into a Hadlock clubhouse. Josh Beckett, of course, who had the swagger before he reached the major leagues with the Florida Marlins. Ditto Adrian Gonzalez. Jose Reyes when he was on his way up to the New York Mets.

Nomar Garciaparra when he was the Red Sox prospect while playing with Trenton. Minnesota Twins prospect Joe Mauer when he played with New Britain. Hanley Ramirez, of course.

There have been a few busts, too. Josh Booty, the one-time Sea Dogs third baseman, should have stuck with football.

Now it’s Bryce Harper’s turn. He autographed a few things for Speirs while they talked. Two teen-agers in a minor league clubhouse, surrounded by men.

“He was a nice guy,” said Speirs.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway


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