Before Bryce Harper was the top pick in the Major League Baseball draft, before he signed the sport’s biggest contract ever for a first-year pro, he gambled his future on one make-or-break season.
The Las Vegas High School sophomore had already dominated the competition like Mickey Mantle on the playground and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which dubbed him the "most exciting prodigy since LeBron James".
Seeking greater tests as a hitter, the precocious phenom got his GED and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada, where he could face pro prospects in a challenging wooden-bat league that prohibited the hitter-friendly aluminum bats used throughout college ball. Harper shattered the school’s home run record with 31 (the previous mark was 12) and compiled a startling 1.513 OPS while leading his team to the Junior College World Series. For his heroics, the 17-year-old became the only position player from a junior college to win the Golden Spikes Award, given to the nation’s best amateur baseball player.
Las Vegas sportswriter Rob Miech was "embedded" with the Southern Nevada Coyotes team and brings us along for the ride - into the dugout and locker room and on team buses and in motel rooms, from the scorched fields to the snow-capped horizons of the Scenic West Athletic Conference - to deliver a warts-and-all account of a boy among men playing like a man among boys. Amid the media circus that descended upon team and town, we read fascinating personal stories including the dynamics between veteran coach Tim Chambers and Harper’s protective father, the camaraderie with - and jealousies of - other players, the fans and autograph seekers (and girls) who all want a piece of the young star, and how Harper is suspended from the World Series after protesting an umpire’s call, and the role his faith plays in his life.
The Last Natural shows us a season in the life of baseball’s top rising star, culminating in a dramatic conclusion when Harper is drafted number-one by the Washington Nationals and, after tense negotiations that go up until just seconds before the midnight deadline, signs a $9.9 million contract. Even more than this, Miech’s book is the story of a team and its community, the hopes and aspirations of its players and coaches, and the spirit of pure baseball that lies at the heart of the American dream.
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