Harper Finds Comfort in Role

He endured a long rehab that dominated his 2006 season. Having now put a productive year behind him this season, he accepts what lies ahead for him as his career rolls along. Inside Pitch spoke with Harper about his baseball life a bit more outside the lines.

The following is an excerpt from the feature article in the upcoming print edition of Inside Pitch Magazine

Brett Harper arrived at second base and lifted his arms in alleviation as much as triumph, as if to say "At last."

As Harper caught his breath, Vince Harrison did the same in the dugout, having scored all the way from first on Harper's two-out, line-drive double down the right-field line, a screamer that short-hopped the wall before it bounced away from Trenton Thunder right fielder Noah Hall—an error that allowed Harrison to score.

It was the 14th inning, and Harrison's run represented something that had eluded the Binghamton Mets for the previous 13 innings of 90-degree weather on August 26 at Waterfront Park: a lead, at 3-2.

Harper finished the day 4-for-5 with a walk and 2 RBI—leaving Hall's error out of the picture, he drove in all three B-Mets runs. Entering September 2, his 24 home runs and 87 RBI were both third-best in the Eastern League, and he had a .299 average as well.

A little more than a year before, he was unsure if he would ever play again.

Harper, a 26-year-old left-hander who plays mostly as a DH, was drafted by the Mets in the 45th round of the 2000 draft out of Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, the same town he grew up in. His first stints with the B-Mets came in 2004, but it was in 2005 between Binghamton and Single-A St. Lucie that Harper really emerged, with 36 home runs and 102 RBI in 129games between the two.

With Binghamton to start the 2006 season, Harper took a swing in New Britain in late April that "felt like my arm came out of its socket almost." He had torn the labrum in his right shoulder, ending his season, and he thought, potentially, his career.

"When you have a major, major shoulder surgery like that, you have to put in the back of your mind that ‘Hey, sometimes stuff doesn't heal, and it just doesn't work out,'" Harper said. "You hear guys say I just couldn't do it anymore."

But Harper had an invaluable voice in his corner—that of his Major League father, Brian Harper, who played in 1,001 games over 16 seasons and won a World Series as the starting catcher for the 1991 Minnesota Twins.

Brett listened deeply to his father and worked all of last summer between Arizona and Florida, strengthening the muscles around the labrum.

"I rehabbed my butt of all summer and I got it ready," Harper said.

In May, the Brett of old began to emerge, with six homeruns and a .292 average. His 21-game hit streak and the hot bat of Eastern League Player of the Month Caleb Stewart carried the team.

"Harper's a hitter," Stewart said. "He's always going to hit, it was only a matter of time."

Time is exactly what Brett said finally allowed him to gain confidence in his shoulder. After a down June—when he hit .241 with three home runs—he hit .324 with five home runs in July and .358 with nine home runs in August.

"The first couple months of the season was a little shaky, nobody wants to have to go through another summer of that," said Harper of how he tentative he was out of fear he would re-injure his shoulder and have to rehab it again.

B-Mets hitting coach Nelson Silverio said that Brett's success was not only owed to his renewed faith in his shoulder, but because he stopped trying for the long ball.

"After he started getting his swing back, it was about getting base hits first," Silverio said. "That was his goal, trying to get a base hit, that's the name of the game. As a power hitter, when you have the contact and the timing, then you start hitting home runs like he's doing."

What is most likely to prevent Brett from making it in the big leagues, at least on the Mets or anywhere in the National League, is his fielding ability. He played first base this season when Mike Carp was injured for a month from May to June, and in left field in games without a DH to keep his bat in the lineup and because of injuries to the regular outfielders. But the majority of the time, Brett has been a designated hitter.

"What matters me to most is not what anybody thinks about or a prospect list, I don't care," Brett said. "As long as I can keep going out there and show everyone, ‘Hey, I can hit. I didn't go anywhere, I just got hurt."


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nThe following is an excerpt from the feature article in the upcoming print edition of Inside Pitch Magazine
\r\n
\r\nBrett Harper arrived at second base and lifted his arms in alleviation as much as triumph, as if to say \"At last.\"
\r\n
\r\nAs Harper caught his breath, Vince Harrison did the same in the dugout, having scored all the way from first on Harper's two-out, line-drive double down the right-field line, a screamer that short-hopped the wall before it bounced away from Trenton Thunder right fielder Noah Hall—an error that allowed Harrison to score.
\r\n
\r\nIt was the 14th inning, and Harrison's run represented something that had eluded the Binghamton Mets for the previous 13 innings of 90-degree weather on August 26 at Waterfront Park: a lead, at 3-2.
\r\n
\r\nHarper finished the day 4-for-5 with a walk and 2 RBI—leaving Hall's error out of the picture, he drove in all three B-Mets runs. Entering September 2, his 24 home runs and 87 RBI were both third-best in the Eastern League, and he had a .299 average as well.
\r\n
\r\nA little more than a year before, he was unsure if he would ever play again.
\r\n
\r\nHarper, a 26-year-old left-hander who plays mostly as a DH, was drafted by the Mets in the 45th round of the 2000 draft out of Scottsdale Community College in Arizona, the same town he grew up in. His first stints with the B-Mets came in 2004, but it was in 2005 between Binghamton and Single-A St. Lucie that Harper really emerged, with 36 home runs and 102 RBI in 129games between the two.
\r\n
\r\nWith Binghamton to start the 2006 season, Harper took a swing in New Britain in late April that \"felt like my arm came out of its socket almost.\" He had torn the labrum in his right shoulder, ending his season, and he thought, potentially, his career.
\r\n
\r\n\"When you have a major, major shoulder surgery like that, you have to put in the back of your mind that ‘Hey, sometimes stuff doesn't heal, and it just doesn't work out,'\" Harper said. \"You hear guys say I just couldn't do it anymore.\"
\r\n
\r\nBut Harper had an invaluable voice in his corner—that of his Major League father, Brian Harper, who played in 1,001 games over 16 seasons and won a World Series as the starting catcher for the 1991 Minnesota Twins.
\r\n
\r\nBrett listened deeply to his father and worked all of last summer between Arizona and Florida, strengthening the muscles around the labrum.
\r\n
\r\n\"I rehabbed my butt of all summer and I got it ready,\" Harper said.
\r\n
\r\nIn May, the Brett of old began to emerge, with six homeruns and a .292 average. His 21-game hit streak and the hot bat of Eastern League Player of the Month Caleb Stewart carried the team.
\r\n
\r\n\"Harper's a hitter,\" Stewart said. \"He's always going to hit, it was only a matter of time.\"
\r\n
\r\nTime is exactly what Brett said finally allowed him to gain confidence in his shoulder. After a down June—when he hit .241 with three home runs—he hit .324 with five home runs in July and .358 with nine home runs in August.
\r\n
\r\n\"The first couple months of the season was a little shaky, nobody wants to have to go through another summer of that,\" said Harper of how he tentative he was out of fear he would re-injure his shoulder and have to rehab it again.
\r\n
\r\nB-Mets hitting coach Nelson Silverio said that Brett's success was not only owed to his renewed faith in his shoulder, but because he stopped trying for the long ball.
\r\n
\r\n\"After he started getting his swing back, it was about getting base hits first,\" Silverio said. \"That was his goal, trying to get a base hit, that's the name of the game. As a power hitter, when you have the contact and the timing, then you start hitting home runs like he's doing.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhat is most likely to prevent Brett from making it in the big leagues, at least on the Mets or anywhere in the National League, is his fielding ability. He played first base this season when Mike Carp was injured for a month from May to June, and in left field in games without a DH to keep his bat in the lineup and because of injuries to the regular outfielders. But the majority of the time, Brett has been a designated hitter.
\r\n
\r\n\"What matters me to most is not what anybody thinks about or a prospect list, I don't care,\" Brett said. \"As long as I can keep going out there and show everyone, ‘Hey, I can hit. I didn't go anywhere, I just got hurt.\"
\r\n
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