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thomas dunne books.

An imprint of St. Martins Press.

the last natural. Copyright 2012 by Rob Miech. All rights reserved. Printed in
the United States of America. For information, address St. Martins Press, 175 Fifth
Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
ISBN 978-1-250- 00145- 0
First Edition: June 2012

the last preseason practice of Bryce Harpers amateur life started
on Thursday, January 28, 2010, with a meeting of all the College of
Southern Nevada coaches and players in center eld at Morse Stadium. The verdant diamond sat in the southeast nook of the vast Las
Vegas valley, which was more of a bowl. Envision a large, square
table, roughly tilted from Summerlin in the northwest to Morse Stadium, in Henderson, at the southeast. Rainwater generally owed toward
Henderson, toward Morse. That is also where the eyes of the baseball
world gushed in 2010.
The square, white steeple and narrow spire atop a Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a wide, dull-brown-brick edice off
to the right beyond a swath of desert brush, marked the long I-515 offramp Harper descended every morning to College Drive.
After he turned left on College and zipped through the freeway
underpass, to Harpers left a football eld, soccer pitch, and baseball
diamond were nudged between the freeway and Foothill High. Basketball and tennis courts were wedged between the street and the
far left of three buildings, wide and white, with a red-tiled, lowarching roof. The middle one was low and white, too, with a at, redtiled roof. The main building on the right looked like a prison, with
atall wall of red-sandstone blocks topped by a thin layer of gray-



sandstone bricks. Between the street and the two right-side structures
was the schools sprawling parking lot. Black Mountain loomed behind the campus to the west.
As Harper turned left onto Heather Drive, just past the high
school, to the right stood the main CSN building, its tall, beige corner
square topped by a light blue ribbon. That corner was cut off to form
a at, inviting entrance, with a seven-pointed window tilted at the top
that bathed those inside with the morning sun.
Heading west on Heather, newcomers could easily miss the
short, S-curved, downhill asphalt drive, whose three well-camouaged
speed bumps destroyed innocent shock absorbers. At the bottom, on
the other side of the fteen-foot-tall ashen-sandstone clubhouse with
the tilted metal roof to the left and the three batting cages to the right,
Morse Stadium and the Lied Baseball Complexthe new home for
the local baseball hero whose fame had been increasing by the day
Out in center eld, Coach Tim Chambers told the Coyotes to
be prepared for the four games they would play over the next three
days. Chambers condant Jim Schwanke, a former assistant coach at
Oklahoma State and Louisiana State, talked about the importance of
bonding and selessness. But Chambers held court. He shooed the
seventeen-year-old Harper away in his white pants and gray practice
jersey. CSN catchers coach Cooper Fouts stuck by Harpers left as they
strolled toward the right-eld foul line. This is about you being successful, Fouts said as he looked up at Harper, and us being successful.
Chambers shifted his tack to the supporting cast when Harper had
slipped out of earshot.
You all know that guys the shit. None of you know what hes
going through, what hes thinking, or what hes feeling. Hes why we
have that new scoreboard. Why we have those new seats. Why we have
that new parking lot. Protect him. Watch out for him. If we have no
jealousies, well be ne.
Thirty professional baseball scouts, taking notes and enjoying



the sun and wasting their employers money, peered out at the practice. Some sat on shiny blue plastic seats on the red-boulder bleachers
behind home plate. Some stood behind the protective black netting,
surrounding the plate area, in clumps of two or three. The black cord
of his stopwatch, in his right pocket, that wrapped around his right
wrist gave away a scout from twenty paces. Logos of the St. Louis
Cardinals, New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Washington
Nationals, especially the Nationals, advertised on Windbreakers, sweaters, and visors.
In the ten previous CSN seasons, maybe a dozen scouts had
watched the Coyotes at any particular practice. Twenty-four hours after
this practice, Morse would burst at its seams with a record crowd of
nearly two thousand. In three weekends, CSN would surpass its gate
revenue from the entire 2009 season. They all were eager to see what
the Rook, what Chambers called his burgeoning star, would do with a
wooden bat in junior college.
The scouts swarmed that Thursday practice to see Harper, who
had graced the June 8, 2009, cover of Sports Illustrated wearing his
red Las Vegas High jersey and gaudy wrestlerlike eye black, at the tail
end of his powerful left-handed swing, squinting as if he were watching the Rawlings he had just poked turn into a pea and plop into the
Pacic Ocean, with the setting sun glowing orange against the base of
Frenchman Mountain behind him.
Looks a little lean, a scout said to Fouts.
Hes at 208 pounds, said Fouts, glancing at the six-foot-three
Harper. Dont worry. Hes eatin Mamas cookin.
Harper towered over Chambers, Fouts, and just about everyone
else in the stadium that afternoon. Indeed, when inelder Casey Sato
rst saw Harper enter the CSN clubhouse, he thought the slugger looked
more like a twenty-two-year-old mana pro seasoned by a rapid rise
in the minor leagues who carried himself like John Wayne, just as his
old man had taught himthan a kid who was halfway through high
school. Harpers hair was jet-black, thanks to dye, and closely cropped



and blocked off in back. He wore his sideburns like Montgomery Clift
and the bottoms of his jeans turned up, like Marlon Brando. All he
needed was a woolen uniform to complete his throwback appearance.
His matinee-idol good looks, those almost phosphorescent green eyes
and strong chin, and the tiny birthmark just below the outside of his left
eye, just might convince Gentlemens Quarterly scouts to slap Harper
on their own cover.
The Sports Illustrated cover cemented Harper, targeted for baseball stardom at an early age, as a public gure. It brought him an added
measure of celebrity in major league clubhouses, too.
Soon after that edition had hit the newsstands and mailboxes,
Harper attended a game at Dodger Stadium. His name served as carte
blanche at clubhouse doors. He sat in stadium front rows or luxury
suites. Harper knew Orlando Hudson well. As they chatted in the Dodgers clubhouse before the game, Hudson, in the only season he played
second base in Los Angeles, told Harper to go sit on the bench in front
of rst baseman James Loneys cubicle. Loney, who had Harpers
Sports Illustrated cover taped on the inside of his locker, screeched
to a stop, eyes wide and mouth agape. The cover boy was sitting right
there in front of him. What the hell you doin sittin there? Loney
said. Thats the Kid! responded Hudson, laughing and nearly falling
onto the Dodger-blue carpet. Loney found a black Sharpie and had
Harper sign the magazine cover. I love LA, Harper said, and I love
those guys.
The Sports Illustrated fame had convinced Aaron Marcus, an investment banker who lives on Long Island, New York, to pay $12,500
for a one-of-a-kind Bowman 2010 SuperFractor Bryce Harper baseball
card. After seeing the magazine cover and reading about Harper, Marcus became enthralled with the prodigy and began buying his cards.
Marcus was awed by Harpers physical ability, work ethic, and potential. After splurging for that card, Marcus said, For all we know, in a
few years he could be hitting six-hundred-foot home runs regularly.
Harpers celebrity was circumnavigating the globe. When Las


Vegas businessman Jan Landy, who visited Rio de Janeiro so frequently he bought an apartment in the South American playground,
was introduced to someone on Ipanema Beach in January 2010 and
the Brazilian learned where Landy called home, he asked Landy, Entao voce conhece Bryce Harper? (So you know Bryce Harper?) Landy,
who spoke uent Portuguese but had never met Harper, was astounded
by the young stars far-reaching popularity.
Harper had created his own end around to the draft. Hed pummeled the preppies with an aluminum bat. Now hed jumped to a new
level of competition, and attention, in the Scenic West Athletic Conference. The only other collegiate leagues in America whose hitters
employed wooden bats were the Empire Conference, Arizona Community College Athletic Association, and the Division II Mon-Dak
Conference, all in junior college.
Typically viewed as a last-chance refuge for athletes who couldnt
make the grade on the eld or in the classroom at four-year institutions, junior college baseball took on a whole new diamond-studded
dimension in 2010. Professional-talent evaluators and college recruiters would ock to Morse Stadium. Harper would swing his black
Marucci CU26 maple Pro Models, even a few pink ones, with vigor . . .
when umpires werent examining his every move with a magnifying
glass, or Harper wasnt imploding over striking out, popping up to
an inelder, dueling with his coach, or melting down from his own
At that last preseason practice session, as the Coyotes stretched
along the right-eld foul line, they made fun of Cooper Fouts, who
had settled on a day and venue with his bride-to-be for their midsummer wedding. Already lost one nut by getting engaged, they roared at
Fouts as they lay on their backs with their left legs way out right. They
stretched their right legs way out left. In July, they said, you lose
the other one. They talked about girls and clowned on each other.
Harpers teammates mimicked his walk, the way his weight instantly



shifted forward to the balls of his feet when he took a step. He always
seemed to be leaning forward. Perpetual aggression.
Harper showed that on the diamond by always looking to stretch
a single into a double, rounding rst base hard, or trying to turn a
double into a triple. Walk him and he could easily be on third a minute
later, having stolen second, then third. Stealing home plate was always
on his mind, too. He lived on forcing the issue. That intensity would be
his worst enemy and cost him dearly.
But in January, bliss lled Morse Stadium. Laughter grew louder
as each copycat stride of Harpers gait by a teammate bettered the
previous one. Harper looked most comfortable standing with his right
size fourteen, at ten oclock, just in front of his left size fourteen, at
two oclock. An odd stance, to be sure, but it seemed as if he could fall
asleep, like Secretariat, while standing up.
Sixty thousand feet above Harper, contrails from F-22 Raptors,
F-15C Eagles, and F-16 Fighting Falcon Aggressors, developing tactics
out of Nellis Air Force Base to the north of Las Vegas, crisscrossed
and ran parallel to each other. The jet vapor widened and broke up the
farther each one stretched. Those pilots looked as if they were attempting to arrange a giant game of tic-tac-toe. A light breeze drifted in
from Lake Mead over the River Mountains and into Morse from right
eld. Yellow, four-inch, heavy-duty corrugated plastic tubing topped
the outeld walls and four-foot-high chain-link fence just beyond the
foul lines and dugouts.
The Longhorn Casino & Hotel, attorney Michael T. Schulman,
LaDucas Italian Deli, and good luck wishes from Bob and Nancy
Joslin were some of the sixteen banners that advertised on those dullgreen outeld walls. The biggest, with large, white block letters against
a black background, celebrated the Coyotes NJCAA World Series
championship in 2003. All were bleaching from the harsh desert environment.
Low mountains and sandy hills almost completely ringed the


valley, whose rough base of alkaline and calichesurface deposits of

sodium nitrate, calcium, and other carbonatesformed a harsh moonscape that shifted from shades of coffee grounds, to maple bars, to
manila folders, and cinnamon. The unforgiving Mojave Desert terrain
had a base of volcanic ash and molten lava from massive eruptions
30 million years ago. Bleak, stark and often beautiful, wrote Russell
Elliott in his book History of Nevada.
At dusk, the view from Morse Stadium, which pointed northeast
from home plate to center eld, captivated its audience. At different
times during the season, CSN players Casey Sato and Gabe Weidenaar
stood on the right side of the dugout and stared out to the left, contemplating the sunset melding of yellow and orange and red, blotches of
amethyst, puffs of crimson, and streaks of magenta that seemed to drift
out of a giant genies bottle on the other side of the Spring Mountains.
Like a eld of dreams, Weidenaar said softly.
At night, the Las Vegas Strip glistened twenty miles beyond the
left-eld foul pole to the northwest. Planes from all over the world, every minute or so, descended into McCarran International Airport at the
height of the lights in left-center eld and then in the middle of the light
stanchion in left. Wide-eyed passengers on the right side of those cabins could see a half-size Eiffel Tower, the come-hither emerald-green
glow of the worlds largest hotel, a mini Statue of Liberty and Empire
State Building, and a concentrated white light beaming to the heavens
from the point of a dark pyramid behind a fake Sphinxthis one with
a full beakall beckoning to their purses and wallets.
Those tourists also viewed the 1,149-foot Stratospherethe tallest freestanding observation tower in the countrypiercing the evening sky. Unlike its brethren, such as Canton Tower in China, Tokyo
Sky Tree in Japan, and CN Tower in Canada, the Stratosphere reected the city in which it was rooted by not just giving its visitors a
neat view as they sat in its rotating restaurant; it offered adrenaline
junkies thrill rides, including the Big Shota favorite of Lisa Marie


Presley, Elviss lone progenythat propelled its victims in a capsule

to the top of the needle.
At that Thursday practice, CSNs big shot prepared for his special
season. The lush Bermuda grass had scattered brown pockmarks,
but rye overseed would soon wipe out those blemishes. The jet contrails drifted behind a few feathery cirrus clouds against a wild blue
canvas on the sixty-degree afternoon at the stadium named for the
late William R. Morse. The longtime area legal gure and former Las
Vegas High star quarterback ew bomber missions in World War II
and had been CSN assistant coach Marc Morses grandfather. morse
stadium was highlighted in yellow against the blue-painted wood
press box behind home plate. A dozen Mexican fan palm trees, six to
a side, stood sentry behind the press box and red-rock stands.
Harper bounced around like, well, a ju nior in high school. He
tapped the left shoulder of teammates and slipped away right. He
tapped the right shoulder of others and feigned landing haymakers.
He tossed a softball-size, green plastic ball at unwitting bystanders,
unleashing a giddy cackle when it landed on his targets chest fty
feet away.
Just having fun out here, said sophomore Scott Dysinger, a
lean, ve-foot-eleven second baseman and leadoff hitter whose high
cheekbones and genuine black hair came from his Taiwan-born father. His eyes looked like butterscotch Life Savers. Every teammate
called him Dice. He had been born in London to a Scottish mother,
Elly, who was an accomplished dancer. She had relocated to Southern
California after a divorce from Scotts father, Bob, when Scott was
ajunior at Bishop Gorman High School.
Silverado High School product Trevor Kirk, an outelder, came
from a splintered family, too, and lived with his maternal grandfather.
During the season, Kirk dyed his short brown hair black, giving
him the uncanny countenance of Portuguese and Real Madrid soccer
superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Kirk was the team jester. He always



looked to smack the groin of an unaware teammate, or wandering

writer, with the back of his right hand. Some of his more serious teammates tried avoiding him. Some chided him when they became the
object of his tomfoolery.
Kirk had also been gifted with a knack, almost as ne as Harpers, for connecting his bat with the ball. The Milwaukee Brewers had
spotted that talent and picked Kirk in the forty-seventh round of the
draft after his freshman season at CSN, but he opted to continue his
education and polish his skills. Dysinger and Kirk would often hit
rst and second, respectively, in the batting order; that also represented
their positions in the team hierarchy.
Trevor Kirk had a connection with Bryce Harper, too, since
Kirks father, Rich, had played on the same Rancho High baseball team
as Ron Harper when the Rams had faced Tim Chamberss squad in that
Easter tournament almost thirty years earlier.
Rich Kirk had vivid memories of pitcher Greg Maddux, the surere Hall of Famer who was all arms and legs when he threw for Valley
High School. Maddux, whose father, Dave, served in the air force,
was born in Texas and grew up in Madrid, Spain, before moving to Las
Vegas at a young age with his family. It had not surprised Rich Kirk
and many in the valley when Maddux, at the age of twenty, made his
major league debut in September 1986 for the Chicago Cubs.
Sam Thomas, who had coached Bryce Harper in his two seasons
at Las Vegas High, caught Madduxs games in 1983. Thomas was a
senior and Maddux, who won eight of nine decisions, was a junior.
Valley won the state championship that season, not a shock considering its sterling roster that included Michael Greer, Steve Chitren, and
Dan Opperman, who were all drafted by major league teams.
Mike Morgan, however, had rst attracted major league scouts
to Las Vegas. Within one week in 1978, Morgan had graduated from
Valley High, been selected with the fourth overall pick in the June
draft by Oakland, and started for the Athletics in a game against Baltimore. Morgan went the distance, but Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor



beat him by shutting out the As. Morgan had a 141-186 record in twentytwo major league seasons, and he expressed caution about how it had
all started.
Jumping from high school to a big league mound in a week had
brought him much recognition, but he spent most of his rst four seasons in the minors. He told Sports Illustrated that the rush to see what
he could do at the games top level had crushed his development.
Madduxs development had been paced; he threw two complete seasons in the minors before being called up at the end of his
second year, and after four Triple-A starts in 1987 he was called up to
the Cubs for good. Maddux won 355 major league games, became the
rst pitcher to win Cy Young Awards in four consecutive seasons, and
earned eighteen Gold Glove trophies in a sterling career that ended
after the 2008 season. Go ahead, Maddux told me when I visited him
in his luxurious home behind two gates in the exclusive Spanish Trail
development in Las Vegas after he had won his thirteenth Gold Glove
in 2002, try one on. Huh? Theyre actual gloves, he said. I removed
one from its stand and was surprised at how comfortably it t on my
left hand.
The start of what Bryce Harper hoped to be a Hall of Fame
career would depend upon what he did at Morse Stadium. But Scott
Dysinger and Trevor Kirk were the Coyotes who spent most of their
waking hours at the diamond, raking its dirt and trimming its fringes,
praying that their careers wouldnt end there.