WASHINGTON — Six minutes and eight seconds.
That’s how long superstar right fielder Bryce Harper spent with a cluster of playoff media Thursday in the home clubhouse at Nationals Park. And, boy, were we ever entertained. For 6:08, he answered questions in unbroken monotone. For 6:08, he gave us unflinching expressionlessness.
Is this the NLDS or the World Series of Poker?
“We’re just excited to be here,” he began, and things only picked up steam from there.
Here’s what Harper had to say about facing the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks in Game 1 on Friday: “I’m not really worried about who’s on the mound or anything like that.”
And here’s what he had to say about starring opposite Kris Bryant, his former youth travel-ball teammate in Las Vegas and, according to the nastiest of rumors, his (gasp) friend: “I’m not really worried about him or how he’s going to do.”
What a charmer this guy is.
There’s a lot Harper has in common with Bryant. Where they’re from, of course. Their ages; Harper, who’ll turn 25 in a little over a week, is nine months younger. Their elite standing in the game, as back-to-back -National League MVPs, starting with Harper in 2015.
They are the faces of their respective franchises, but that’s also where the differences between these great players begin. Harper came into the league with a “clown question, bro” in 2012 and often wears the glazed look of a celebrity being hounded by paparazzi. Bryant’s approach is decidedly different — he kills ’em with kindness.
You know that iceberg-melting smile you see on Bryant’s face in photos and on television? He has one of those for everybody he encounters, right down to the pushiest, most annoying writers. And that’s on an everyday basis.
“I pride myself on being a respectable guy that smiles often, even if I don’t want to smile,” Bryant said. “Just treat people respectfully, you know? That’s how I was raised. That’s how my parents treated everybody they ran into, and I learned from them and saw them. So there’s no other way I’d rather be.”
I asked Bryant the other day about Derek Jeter, a player who, like Bryant, broke into the league in a major market and found instant, enormous success. A young Jeter was warm and friendly, but eventually he put up walls. Too much media attention. Only so many smiles to give.
What happens when Bryant is a couple of years older, a couple of years more seasoned and more — come on, he’s human — jaded? What happens when he’s 30? When he’s 35? When does he say to hell with it and become crankier, or more rigid, as so many athletes of his stature have done? When do the walls start going up?
Too much work, according to Bryant.
“The game is hard enough,” he said. “It’s an emotional roller coaster as it is. You have to get off it or it’ll destroy you.”
Harper is doing things his way. It’s not like he isn’t thriving. Hey, whatever works. Although the monotone and the poker face sure aren’t going to win him any popularity contests.
Bryant, meanwhile, figures he’ll stick with the Mr. Nice Guy routine no matter how outsized the attention and demands that come his way.
“I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble with all of it,” Bryant said, “but that’s why I like to stay home a lot, so I can feel normal. Jeter was in New York and was single; it was all blown up around him. But all the more props to him for being able to perform on the field with all that attention on him. I don’t know if there are many people in the game who could handle that.
“But I try not to get too worked up about any of that stuff. Just be a good person, a good guy. It goes a long way.”
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.