On Sept. 20, 1960, Ted Williams hit a pitch from the Baltimore Orioles’ Jack Fisher into the bullpen at Boston’s Fenway Park for a home run in the final at-bat of the final game he would play. John Updike, the novelist, poet and literary critic, wrote about it to great acclaim for The New Yorker.
On Sept. 20, 2019, Bryan Harper was summoned from the Lancaster Barnstormers’ bullpen to pitch against the York Revolution in the independent Atlantic League, where baseball dreams that still flicker go before they die.
The lanky left-hander struck out one guy, retired another one. He went to an 0-2 count on the next one. Harper threw a breaking ball. Ball one. He threw another breaking ball. Hung this one. The York batter lined it off the wall for a double.
Harper was taken out. It was the final game he would pitch in.
He did not doff his cap as he walked off the field. He did not receive a rousing ovation.
Nor did novelists, poets and literary critics write about it.
He retired from pro baseball without fanfare. Without a news conference, as there surely will be when his little brother Bryce Harper does the same.
“I played for nine years — eight seasons and a rehab year. I still hadn’t learned that I should not hang the breaking ball on a 1-2 count,” Bryan Harper wryly mused.
Life after baseball
Three months after his final pitch was whacked off the wall at PeoplesBank Park, Bryan Harper was studying real estate. In January, he received his license. He is working for a broker named Harvey Tadmor at Real Simple Real Estate in Las Vegas.
Last week, he closed on a property with his first client. Harper seemed nearly as excited as when he notched his first pitching win as a 23-year-old for the 2013 Hagerstown Suns of the Class A South Atlantic League.
He had pitched for a College World Series champion at South Carolina, and he twice made it as far as Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington Nationals’ organization. He was one step from being teammates with his little brother in the big leagues.
Not bad for a 30th-round draft choice.
Not bad for a guy who relied on cunning and guile instead of the big heater to get guys out.
Last year around this time, he was getting in shape to pitch again, warming up on the sidelines at the College of Southern Nevada, where he and Bryce were teammates. When he looked in the mirror, he saw a guy who still had something left in the tank.
Now when he looks in the mirror, he sees a real estate agent rather than an aging ballplayer.
“I played for nine years under contract,” said Harper, 30. “I made three of the best friends I could ever ask for. I got to meet some amazing people. I’ve got stories for days when it comes to the minor league grind. I’m OK with it. It wasn’t that hard of a decision to give it up.”
Timing isn’t everything
A lot of people might say that becoming a real estate agent during a pandemic health crisis is the worst idea since baseball on AstroTurf. One could make the analogy it’s like being summoned from the bullpen with the bases loaded and nobody out.
“If people have money saved, I’m sure they’re not looking to buy a house right now,” said Harper, who, like his superstar brother, played for Las Vegas High. “Safety for the world is No. 1. People need to be able to pay their rents and mortgages.
“But they just dropped the federal (interest) rate to near zero. I don’t think a whole lot of people are concerned about the housing market crashing.”
Harper says he’ll grind it out as a rookie real estate agent much as he did as a relief pitcher. You can reach him through social media or by email (Bryan@realsimpleNV.com), he said.
He should consider reaching out to Carlos Franco, the third baseman for last season’s York Revolution.
Franco is the guy who smacked Harper’s hanging curveball off the wall in York, and one never knows if he might be in the market for a time share in Southern Highlands.