The Last Natural
Bryce Harper's Big Gamble in Sin City and the Greatest Amateur Season Ever
By Rob Miech
(Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9781250001450, 368pp.)
Publication Date: May 22, 2012
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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 already had 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 #1 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.
ROB MIECH has won several awards in his twenty-five-year career as a sportswriter, predominantly at the Pasadena Star-News and Las Vegas Sun. His work has appeared in many publications, including USA Today, The Washington Post, CBS SportsLine, and MLB.com.
“From the best seat in the house, a sportswriter chronicles the final amateur season of perhaps the most hyped baseball prospect of all time. Ever since LeBron James took the basketball world by storm in 2003, other sports have sought their own phenoms, individuals possessed of the talent and charisma to shatter statistical records while drawing in casual fans. Enter Bryce Harper, a baseball-mashing savant who, in order to circumvent MLB draft rules that prohibit a player being drafted until the age of 18 or one year after graduating from high school, earned his GED after his sophomore year and enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada in order to hone his skills with a wooden bat and make himself eligible for the draft a year early. Recognizing the uniqueness of the situation, CSN coach Tim Chambers granted Miech full access to the team’s dugout and locker room. From that unique vantage point, the author chronicles Harper’s struggle to adjust to the college game, where his immaturity and fiery competitiveness got him ejected from two games, but where his incredible hitting prowess enabled him to crush 31 home runs, obliterating the previous team record of 12. Miech pays particular attention to Harper’s efforts to balance his desire to fit in with his older teammates with his steadfast dedication to his Mormon beliefs. Though CSN’s season ended short of a championship ring, Harper would win the Golden Spikes award, given annually to the nation’s top amateur, and be selected first overall by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 draft.”—Kirkus Reviews
“In 2010, baseball phenom Bryce Harper—with his parents’ blessing—earned his G.E.D. and joined the College of Southern Nevada’s baseball team as a sophomore, using it as a springboard to get drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals). It was a risk, but a calculated one. Aside from displaying his otherworldly talents in a competitive conference, the 17-year-old was managed by Tim Chambers, a longtime family friend, and played with his older brother, Bryan, a pitcher who had transferred from California State University, Northridge. Both helped contribute to a familial, supportive environment. Veteran sportswriter Miech traveled with the college team for the entire 2010 season, and he captures Harper’s maturation by fire and growing celebrity. Those moments don’t come often enough. Clearly guarded, Harper isn’t exactly an eloquent subject (“It’s just incredible playing with your brother and being around your brother”), while Miech’s constant flaunting of his insider status—the pointless on-the-road chronicles, the skin-deep, distracting profiles of Harper’s teammates and coaches—becomes overbearing. Years from now, the book may be useful in viewing a legend before he was submerged by the avalanche of fame, but readers will still leave with a better understanding of a dedicated junior college baseball team than its superstar alumnus.”—Publishers Weekly
“Like Bryce Harper, Rob Miech has all the tools, and they are on display in THE LAST NATURAL, a compelling, behind-the-scenes account of the making of a phenom.”—George Dohrmann, Pulitzer Prize-winning Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated
"In THE LAST NATURAL, Rob Miech gets the last unfettered access to baseball's next great star, Bryce Harper, before he turns pro, before he can vote, before the handlers and hangers-on and hero-worship descend. The result is a fascinating eyewitness account, a baseball version of the Beatles in Hamburg circa 1961, just before the klieg lights get switched on."—Steve Rushin, Sports Illustrated
"The Last Natural is a remarkable story of Bryce Harper’s action-packed junior-college adventure, told from the vantage point of a tremendous reporter and writer who was fortunate enough to go along on Harper’s unforgettable ride from Morse Stadium to the top of the baseball draft."—Jayson Stark, ESPN.com senior baseball writer
"Rob Miech rides the bench and the buses to craft a stirring story of a young man, an extraordinary dream and an amazing baseball season. Through an insider’s access and a reporter’s eye, Miech lays back the scouting reports to capture the real Bryce Harper—the son, the brother, the teammate and the phenom. Touching and edgy, The Last Natural captures the essence of a hard game made easy by a rare player."—Tim Brown, MLB writer, Yahoo! Sports
"The Last Natural is a fascinating tale of risk, struggle, ambition and triumph. The LeBron James of baseball is brought to life, and all his talents and warts are expertly exposed by an exceptional storyteller. Miech has done what Harper is known for—hitting a spectacular home run. Terrific stuff."—Ed Graney, Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist