JUCO Boom and Bust

Last night wasn’t a good night to be a baseball umpire, or a homeless advocate trying to get your message out.

I went to the Unitarian Church last night to hear Randall Amster of Prescott (AZ) College speak about the criminalization of homelessness. Mr. Amster is a well-spoken subject matter expert with a penchant for activism, and a lengthy portfolio of books and numerous articles to his credit. He was both entertaining and enlightening.

It’s too bad that the attendance was light (about 20 or so), and that there didn’t appear to be a single news media representative in attendance. To their credit, KKCO did make mention of the event in their reporting on the gathering at “The Wedge” earlier in the day. I’m guessing that the sound and fury surrounding a certain JUCO game had the attention of the area and the media last night.

If you took in some of the TV reporting yesterday afternoon, Bryce Harper of Southern Nevada is the greatest thing since Navajo Tacos. Monday night he led his team over Iowa Western with 2 home runs and 8 RBI. Tuesday’s early newscasts were singing the praises of the 17-year old phenom, expected to be drafted high, if not first, in the upcoming MLB amateur draft. JUCO committee chair Jamie Hamilton was taking note of the exceptional media presence that Harper had seemingly drawn to Grand Junction. How often does a 16-year old ballplayer make the cover of Sports Illustrated, as Harper did last year?

By the time 10:00 rolled around, however, a decidedly different tone was present, as Mr. Harper was ejected in the 5th inning for taking umbrage to a called third strike, and his team lost to perennial JUCO participant San Jacinto (TX), 10-8. The ejection will result in a 2-game suspension per NJCAA rules, as Harper was also ejected earlier in the season.

Barring two wins by Southern Nevada in the JUCO loser’s bracket to get to the Championship Game, Mr. Harper’s amateur baseball career will end with a decisive thud on the league’s premier stage. He let his team, the fans, the leaders of his sport, and all of the assembled media down with his actions. You could almost call him the Exxon of this year’s JUCO Tournament.

I was wondering why such an outstanding prospect would be playing JUCO ball. Last year’s SI cover story spelled it out. Mr. Harper’s parents, under the advice of an agent, pulled Bryce from high school and had him get his GED. This would allow him to enroll and play at the JUCO level, which would then make him eligible for the MLB draft. So the kid is built, seasoned, and marketed for baseball.

It’s rumored that Mr. Harper will be drafted by the Washington Nationals this coming Monday. His coach is rumored to be offered a scouting job with the Nats as well. While it’s clear that Mr. Harper has bigger fish to fry elsewhere, he showed to the JUCO faithful that he’s also got a little growing up to do, and may not be remembered fondly among other JUCO players who made it to the majors, such as Kirby Puckett.

I wish Mr. Harper well in his quest for professional glory, if that’s what he wants. On a day where a third perfect game in the majors this season was thwarted by an umpire’s blown call with 2 outs in the 9th, he’ll hopefully have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself as a pro.

That doesn’t help us here in Grand Junction, however. In an enterprise where hype can sometimes trump history, Mr. Harper’s unceremonious exit could put a damper on what has been a better attended and more exciting tournament so far this year.

I have plenty to do today. Enjoy your day as well.

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