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GRANEY COLUMN: CSN coach ready for Harper ‘circus’

Tim Chambers will be the one to manage the madness. To guide the publicity loaded vessel through choppy waters of scrutiny. To bring some calm into the storm of hype.

“I have known the kid since he was 6 years old,” Chambers said. “After this is done and the news is out there, I’ve told the family, ‘That’s it. We’re shutting it down. Now, it’s all about him playing and going to school.’

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ll handle the scouts. He needs to live his life and play ball. I know it’s going to be a circus. I can handle that part of it.”

The spectacle couldn’t be much larger around Bryce Harper these days, the 16-year old Las Vegas High baseball star who recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated and who will bypass his final two prep seasons to play under Chambers.

The plan: Harper will earn his GED and ready himself for the 2010 draft with a year at College of Southern Nevada, where competition will be elevated and his dream of wearing a major league uniform accelerated.

It’s his right to pursue the journey as he and his family sees fit.

That’s how things work with those who possess superior gifts. A 17-year old girl wins “American Idol” and we marvel at her grace and maturity and extraordinary talent. The next young Nickelodeon sensation appears on television and we don’t blink. Tennis and golf and swimming and gymnastics phenoms not old enough to vote compete for major championships and no one gives it a second thought. Latin baseball stars at 16 sign multimillion dollar contracts with our favorite team and we rejoice.

Harper’s choice to depart high school two years early should be greeted with the same acceptance. It has been said those outstanding at something have one thing in common — an absolute sense of mission.

This is what he does.

This is his mission.

“It was not some off-the-cuff decision,” Chambers said. “This was carefully thought out by the family for months. It was a decision to make a move and get him draft eligible and let him do his thing. They didn’t want him to become disinterested at the high school level. People don’t pitch to him much there anyway. This is a special player who comes around once every 10-15 years. Not many people know what it’s like to be him.”

The physical part won’t be an issue at CSN. Harper has always played up in age. He is a projected No. 1 overall draft pick, which means he’ll hardly be overwhelmed by the Scenic West Athletic Conference and should probably get used to the idea of one day soon catching Stephen Strasburg in Washington.

But he is also just 16, and even for a kid whose life is said to be dominated by the next lesson, the next practice, the next game, the next flight to a tournament, adapting socially outside high school walls is a process.

Harper has his family to help with that, including an older brother (Bryan) who has left Cal State Northridge after one season and will join Bryce at CSN as a left-handed pitcher. He also has Chambers, whose reputation locally is incomparable for how he develops players.

This isn’t the correct path for everyone. Hardly. It is for the exceptions among us. Like 17-year old Jeremy Tyler, who is leaving high school in San Diego a year early to play basketball professionally in Europe as he awaits NBA draft eligibility, Harper exists within a minute portion of athletes capable of facing what was once viewed an implausible test. It is on him alone to pass or fail, to prove capable of dealing with the intense pressures that accompany such promise.

The best thing about this decision is its frankness. No one is suggesting it is anything other than what it is. The kid wants to be a big leaguer and he wants it sooner rather than later, and no one outside his home has the right to decide which channels he follows to get there.

“This is a smart kid with a 3.9 GPA,” Chambers said. “He will definitely be able to handle this move. I really believe he could be in the big leagues by age 19. I believe he’ll be the No. 1 pick, that he’ll be drafted as a catcher but his bat will play him into third base or the outfield.

“I’m pumped. I’m pumped about coaching him and his brother. The family is already overwhelmed and it really hasn’t even been out there yet. That’s my job now. It’s time for him to just play and not worry about all the other stuff.”

There is no pretense to this, and that is refreshing.

Whether it’s the correct move or not is debatable, but this isn’t: The move is Bryce Harper’s to make.

His talent has earned him the right.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.


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