Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

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Your kid's not going Bryce Harper

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In the least surprising Major League Baseball draft since way back last year, the Washington Nationals picked Bryce Harper No. 1 overall. By comparison to Harper, last year’s top pick, the highly hyped, soon-to-debut Stephen Strasburg, was an under-the-radar late bloomer. When the 17-year-old Harper appeared on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” to discuss his status, he mentioned at least four times that he had dreamed since the age of 7 of being the No. 1 pick — and I believe him.

The by-now-familiar story of Harper is that he has been a baseball machine practically since birth, getting his GED so he could leave after his sophomore high school season to play a season of junior college so he could be eligible for the 2010 draft. And so he was.

Harper has worked long and hard for his status, even if he is only 17. However, just because all that hard work paid off for him does not mean it will for your child. Here is why your child won’t be reaching Harper-ish status:

1. Your child will not be wayyyy better than his peers at age 7. Not a little better. Not kinda letter. Not even a lot better. Incredibly, superbly, undeniably better. Even if you consider his family had to tell him what an MLB draft is, a kid can’t even think of it seriously, or be taken seriously thinking about it, unless he shows unusual talent early.

2. Your child will not be willing to submit to the drudgery and boredom of learning anything, much less something as full of drudgery and boredom as baseball, at such an early age. This is sort of 1a. You can tell your child about the hours they would have to put in, but few will actually jump in to do it — enthusiastically.

3. Your child will burn out by his teenage years after a Harper-like schedule — or merely decide he’d rather be a “normal” high schooler. As former Mets manager Bobby Valentine noted, not necessarily with an approving tone, on “Baseball Tonight,” Harper was playing 175 games per year by age 12. Valentine also noted he basically never had a normal high school experience. “People talk about 10,000 hours,” Valentine said, referring to the Malcolm Gladwell-popularized timeline for becoming genius-like at a certain skill,”But what Harper missed it those two million seconds of high school.” I’m not sure whether high school lasts two million seconds exactly, although it always seemed like the last five minutes of algebra lasted that long. Anyway, a lot of kids, even if they’re great at a sport, will break down mentally or physically with a Harper-like schedule. The temptations, as it were, of hanging out with friends will win out over one more lonely night at the batting cage.

I remember reading stories of Indiana-bred basketball sharpshooter Rick Mount, the first high schooler to appear on Sports Illustrated’s cover (in 1966), who skipped social events aplenty to practice his jump shots, or would have his girlfriend rebound before prom until he finished his workout. That kind of dedication seems practically nutty — but that sort of self-motivation is often necessary to play at higher levels.

4.Your child is not going to grow as large and strong as Harper, who is 6-foot-3, 205 pounds. The story of Michael Jordan failing to make varsity as sophomore (no, he didn’t get cut from the team) is an apocryphal tale of a superstar coming out of humble beginnings. However, if Michael Jordan is 5-foot-10 instead of 6-foot-6, he would be just another guy who never made varsity. Plus, most players don’t make full varsity until junior year, anyway.

5. Your child won’t have superagent Scott Boras coming on as an “adviser” at age 13 to help your child negotiate the sports-industrial complex. That’s because your child won’t need him. They’re, for better or worse, stuck with you as a parent to figure out how to handle any pro career, or more likely, how to handle the nicotine-stained mustache who won’t play him every day in the youth league.

6. Your child will likely have an interest in exploring interests beyond one thing. My oldest son, age 12, has played baseball, basketball, volleyball and soccer, performed in plays, participated in a school reading club and attended robotics camp. My oldest daughter, age 10, has played softball, basketball and soccer, performed in plays, was a part of a competitive reading team, attended zoo camp and is attending nature camp this summer. My oldest son, age 7, has the most defined sports goal of any of my children — he dreams of leading Dwyane Wade High to bowling glory. But he also plays baseball and soccer, and he hasn’t demanded we hire Pete Weber as coach and put him on the worldwide kid bowling circuit. Nor would we. It’s not that my kids are so brilliant they have to do many things. It’s that part of their childhood, and most people’s childhoods, is trying different things to discover their interests.

7. You wouldn’t dream of putting your kid through the insane, one-sport schedule Bryce Harper worked growing up. Also, you don’t have the money to pay for all those travel teams and high-level camps.

This is not to say Harper’s parents are lousy. It appears they’ve handled handling a very driven prodigy with love, care and career development as well as anyone can. My point in all of this is to alert parents that your child is not that prodigy. Let’s start with this point: if your large-built, extraordinarily-talented child is not bugging you all day, every day, to do a certain, activity, then you’re not raising a Bryce Harper. So don’t try to make your child one.

And even if you do, don’t expect that a Hall of Fame pro career is guaranteed — even if your kid is Bryce Harper. Rick Mount flopped as a pro, and the downside of all that youthful dedication to basketball is that it took him decades to figure out how to get over all that work for almost nothing. and become a human being instead of a one-sport machine.

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