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CSN catcher Bryce Harper stays focused

Before the sun rises, Bryce Harper’s day has started. As a college freshman, he has five classes to attend and a long list of things to do.

His days begin and end at his parents’ house on the east side of Las Vegas. That outline for his life is relatively ordinary. Between those lines, everything about Harper is extraordinary.

He’s 17 years old and is touted as the nation’s best baseball player at that age. While his former classmates are picking prom dates, he is auditioning to be the No. 1 pick in the major league draft.

There is a huge upside to being promoted by the national media as a phenom. But Harper has seen the downside, too, and he momentarily doubted it all at one point during the fall.

He wondered whether his jump from Las Vegas High School, where he would be a junior now, to the College of Southern Nevada was premature.

"I had a transition from high school to college, and it was pretty hard at the beginning. I was second-guessing myself and thinking maybe I shouldn’t have done this," Harper said Tuesday.

"There were times when I was in my room or with my family or something, and it was pretty hard because everybody was out there saying stuff. I can’t live up to all the hype and everything like that."

Harper, an honor student in high school, earned his GED test credentials and was excelling at CSN while recording a 4.0 grade-point average. But he was failing for the first time in baseball, compiling too many 0-for-4 days at practice and striking out when he was accustomed to hitting home runs.

"It really hurt me, and I was thinking maybe this isn’t for me," he said, pausing. "But I put that aside."

Harper talked to his father, Ron, and Coyotes coach Tim Chambers, and made adjustments in his swing and attitude that helped erase the doubts.

Just more than a month into the junior-college season, Harper is batting .356 with a team-high four home runs and 18 RBIs for CSN, which is 13-3 and ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Last summer, before making the unprecedented leap from high school sophomore to college freshman, Harper appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as "Baseball’s Chosen One." He was the subject of an ESPN feature and received a crush of national media attention.

During that whirlwind, he said, it got increasingly difficult to focus on baseball. So his family cut him off from the media, allowing him time to mature in a cocoon of seclusion at CSN, where he has been guided and protected by Chambers, a longtime family friend.

"I think Bryce has handled everything unbelievably," Chambers said. "It’s hard to comment on something like this when it’s never been done before. Ask yourself what you were like as a junior in high school. None of us know what it’s like to be him, so you can’t speculate. All you can do is watch.

"He’s had his ups and downs. His dealings with failure and showing body language has gotten way better. It only has been about six months, but he’s matured a ton. He’s grounded, and he doesn’t do anything wrong off the field."

The Harper family rejected invitations for Bryce to appear on several TV shows, including CBS’s "60 Minutes," ABC’s "Good Morning America" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

But he’s easing back into the media spotlight, doing his first interview since August on Tuesday before the Coyotes’ practice.

"It has been awesome not having cameras in your face all the time," Harper said. "I just really wanted to focus on school and baseball.

"If you don’t say it’s fun to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, you’re crazy. That’s everybody’s dream. When you’re actually on it, it’s like, ‘Wow, is this really real?’ Everybody’s dream is to play pro baseball. It has been my dream since I was 5 years old."

Harper, being advised by agent Scott Boras, said it’s not a foregone conclusion that he will enter June’s major league draft, which could net him a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $10 million.

"I’m not focused on the draft right now. I’m worried about winning the national championship at CSN. If I come back next year and play here again, that would be great. I’m still looking at Division-I colleges.

"There’s a lot of good guys in this draft this year, and just to be in it would be a privilege. I wasn’t focused on getting out of high school and going into the draft. That wasn’t my big thing. I came out of high school so that I could further my education and get into college ball, where people will challenge me."

The 6-foot-3-inch Harper is a catcher who also plays third base and outfield. As a high school sophomore, he hit .626 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs. Those numbers were compiled with aluminum bats. Now swinging wood bats and facing better pitchers, his offensive production at the college level is more realistic.

"I’m not getting walked all the time or hitting .700. Everybody was thinking, ‘He’s going to go 5-for-5 every day and hit four bombs and hit a 500-foot home run.’ That’s not baseball, and that’s not me. It’s not going to happen every day."

He hears his alarm clock at 5 a.m. every day, drives his black Toyota Tacoma truck to Gold’s Gym for a workout, returns home to eat and shower, then makes the 30-minute trip for classes at the Henderson campus.

After baseball practice, he might see his girlfriend , Alyssa Rodriguez, a junior and a soccer player at Green Valley High School, and return home to do school work.

The days of briefly second-guessing his decision to leave high school early are in the rearview mirror.

"I’ve still got to work hard. I’m not anywhere near where I want to be at all," he said. "This is a great start."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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