By Howard Fendrich
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant — childhood pals in Las Vegas and the past two NL MVPs — chatted and shared a laugh between their teams’ workouts Thursday ahead of the NL Division Series between the Nationals and the Cubs.
Harper was wearing a black hoodie with a hashtag symbol and “Vegas Strong” across the chest, a reference to the mass shooting during a country music festival in their hometown that left 58 people dead and nearly 500 injured.
“It’s been pretty surreal. Just from talking to friends, talking to family that were definitely at the concert and seeing the things that have happened and transpired from that, it just goes to show how strong our community is in Vegas, how much of a small-knit community it can be,” said Washington’s Harper, who won his MVP award in 2015. “Everybody pulling together and providing — and if anybody needs any help, everybody’s pulling on the same rope, trying to help anybody they can.”
Bryant said his “soon-to-be sister-in-law was there, and running right in the crowd” at last Sunday’s attack. Friends of his were there, too, Bryant said.
He and Harper were both born and raised in Las Vegas.
“This is what you live for,” Bryant said. “To compete against your buddies on a stage like this.”
As for going from tournament teammates as kids to playoff foes in the majors, Harper said: “I don’t think we ever really thought about that. We were just having fun and enjoying our team.”
The 25-year-old Bryant, who is about 9 months older than Harper, recalled some of their earliest encounters in baseball and chuckled while acknowledging: “He was always better than me.”
“He was a freak of nature,” said Bryant, the 2016 MVP and a World Series champion with Chicago. “I can’t even explain how, like, intimidated I was to watch him just hit in the batting cage. The sound coming off his bat was something you never hear.”
This was at what age?
“7,” Bryant said with a smile.
He also remembers seeing Harper pitch later on.
“He would be throwing way harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. So it was more of the fear factor of, ‘My gosh, if he hits me, I’m going to be crying for a week.’ That type of thing. Just kind of a larger-than-life 12-year-old out there that was just so good at baseball, you knew he was bound for where he’s at now.”
Game 1 of the NLDS is tonight, 6:31 p.m. on TBS.