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Las Vegans pulling for one of their own in NL MVP race

Updated November 15, 2021 - 12:22 pm

A lot of people from Southern Nevada will be pulling for Las Vegas’ Bryce Harper to win his second National League Most Valuable Player Award on Thursday.

But only one literally can help him sew it up.

“We commemorate all his achievements in the linings of sports coats and tuxedo jackets,” said Eamon Springall, founder and president of STITCHED Lifestyle, a Las Vegas men’s clothier with shops in The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Tivoli Village.

“I think he’s MVP … a lot of the world thinks he’s MVP,” Springall said. “If he gets it, it will be fun to sit down with him. What I always ask Bryce to do is dream out loud, and we’ll make (a jacket for) it.”

Springall was a baseball star at Eldorado and Durango about 10 years before Harper began belting tape measure home runs at Las Vegas High. When the Philadelphia Phillies’ slugger wanted to have a custom tuxedo made for his 2016 marriage to wife, Kayla, a former Green Valley High soccer standout, he reached out to Springall via text message.

In the interim, Harper was named the NL’s 2015 MVP, after which he and Springall designed the outfielder’s first custom jacket — navy blue with a black shawl collar and a graphic lining depicting special moments during a season in which Harper hit .330 with 42 home runs and 99 RBIs.

This season’s NL MVP vote is a three-way battle pitting Harper against Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals, Harper’s former club, and Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres.

The finalists for the AL MVP are Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien of the Blue Jays and Shohei Ohtani of the Angels.

Springall said he wouldn’t dare take out the needle and thread before Thursday’s announcement, saying it would be akin to reminding a pitcher that he is working on a no-hitter in the seventh inning.

“I think we’ll leave (Bryce) alone at the end of the dugout,” the haberdasher said.

Candidates debate

But with this being the age of social media, there is no shortage of speculation about how Harper measures up against Soto and Tatis.

One popular website gives Tatis the nod ahead of Harper for the award, which is decided by Baseball Writers of Association members. Another website polled its five baseball writers who awarded Soto 13 points to Harper’s 11 (based on a 3-2-1 system), with Tatis third with six points.

Harper batted .309 with 35 homers and 84 RBIs and led the N.L. with in doubles, slugging percentage (.615) and on base-plus slugging percentage (1.044).

While he still plays the game as if his man bun is on fire, Harper now mostly goes about his business with abandon instead of reckless abandon. At 28 and with 10 big league seasons under his belt — and having becoming the father of two small children — he seems to have matured both inside and outside the lines.

Instead of running into walls in 10-1 games, he saves it for when the score is 4-3.

Harper played 141 games in 2021. Discounting COVID-shortened 2020, it was the third season in a row in which he appeared in at least 140 games. He was amazingly resilient this season. After getting hit in face with a 97-mph fastball in April, he missed only three games.

The Phillies were in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season, mostly because Harper nearly carried them there with a fierceness hearkening back to his old Gatorade commercials.

Local support

It was during September that speculation about him becoming MVP mounted and promped Harper to turn off comments on his Instagram account. He later suggested he’d rather face the kind of scrutiny from critics that hounded him early during his career.

“It was actually so I don’t have to listen to people talking about me winning an MVP,” he wrote on Instagram. “I like stuff that gets me going more. Makes me work and makes me the best version of myself.”

He still doesn’t do a lot of media beyond the ballpark and could not be reached for comment for this story. Most of his soundbites are about what the Phillies can do to make him a World Series winner in the 10 years that remain on his $330 million, no opt-out contract.

“Don’t you just love that?” asked Sam Thomas, Harper’s coach at Las Vegas High.

Thomas was at the LVHS diamond, watching 50- and 60-year-olds play the game like Harper — as if their hair was on fire — during a tournament for seniors. Their exuberance reminded him of the best player he ever coached.

“I don’t get to see a lot of big-leaguers work out in the off-season,” he said of watching Harper’s training regimen that routinely includes his remaining on the field after everybody else has gone home. “Even when there’s nobody out here, he’s the running the bases. It’s unbelievable.”

UNLV associate head coach Kevin Higgins said he became a Harper fan the first time he shared the field with him at the College of Southern Nevada. Higgins coached and Harper played there as a teenager, so he could make himself eligible for the MLB draft ahead of his high school graduating class.

“I always thought Bryce was a throwback, the way he played the game,” Higgins said about Harper’s enthusiasm and work ethic — something he would know about, having once played all nine positions in one game for the old Las Vegas Stars.

“He understood the game. He was a student of the game. He knew the old players. He knew their stats. That’s uncommon these days. He had a vision that most kids didn’t have about what he wanted to accomplish and the way he went about it.”

But when it comes to Las Vegas-area baseball, Don Logan is like the replay official in New York — he always has the last word.

“He’s the prodigy to come out of the market,” the Las Vegas Aviators’ president said about Harper.

But what a market. “You go back through the years,” Logan said. There’s “Marty Barrett and Mike Morgan and the Maddux brothers and Stevie Rodriguez, just on and on and on, and now you get to today’s guys with him and Kris (Bryant, the 2016 NL MVP) and just so many great players.”

However, a second NL MVP or not, Harper is the poster boy.

“Bryce is representative of how talented and how good the baseball is in this market,” Logan said.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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