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NEW YORK — During those long, scorching-hot afternoons in Las Vegas — before the baseball world had ever heard of his youngest son — Ron Harper would throw batting practice to young Bryce, unloading pitch after pitch after pitch to the boy who would someday become a major-league star.
So when they stepped into the spotlight Monday night at Citi Field, Bryce and Ron Harper paid no attention to the crowd of 43,588 watching in person or the millions more watching the Home Run Derby on national TV. As far as they were concerned, they were simply father and son, back in Vegas.
"Having my dad out there throwing to me, I was so calm and cool about it," Bryce Harper said. "I wasn't even thinking about the million people in the stands. All I was thinking was that my family's here, my brother's on the field and everybody that's here is family to me."
By night's end, Harper had put on a show worthy of the 20-year-old's first-ever Derby appearance, reaching the final round of the contest before losing out to Athletics slugger Yoenis Cespedes. Results aside, the experience was far more meaningful to the entire Harper family.
"We always talked about it," Ron Harper said. "When he was a little guy. Not after he got drafted, but when he was tiny. He said: 'If I ever get to do that, I want you to throw to me.' Yeah, it was a dream come true."
Wearing an official NL All-Star uniform and pitching to his son in the batter's box, Ron Harper learned what so many often don't realize: It's not easy for non-professionals to throw strikes in a pressurized setting.
Harper took the first four pitches his dad threw, and there were plenty more takes along the way, not to mention one pitch that struck him in the foot, drawing a laugh from the crowd and the participants.
"That was pretty funny," Harper said. "He's never hit me before. He's never hit me during BP."
When Ron Harper did find the strike zone, his son made the most of it.
Harper clubbed eight homers in the first round, good enough for a second-place tie with the Orioles' Chris Davis, though well behind the ridiculous bar set by Cespedes, who hammered 17 home runs in his first round to leave the crowd buzzing.
Showcasing his power to all fields, Harper hit them out down the right-field line, to right-center, to straightaway center and even once went "oppo-boppo" to left-center. His biggest blast: a 471-foot bomb to right-center that was the second-longest hit by anyone all night, bested only by Prince Fielder's 483-foot moonshot.
Showing remarkable consistency, Harper again hit eight homers in the second round to earn a spot in the final four with Cespedes, Davis and Cuddyer.
Davis struggled in his second go-around, hitting only four homers to give him an aggregate total of 12. Cuddyer's two-round total of 15 brought Harper to the plate knowing he would need to hit at least seven to ensure his night continued. He surpassed that by the slimmest of margins, advancing to the finals with a total of 16 homers.
By the time he reached the final round, Harper admittedly was fatigued, the 90-degree heat and humidity finally getting to him.
"Those last two rounds, I can say I was a little tired," he said.
So was Ron, who was informed afterward he threw approximately 120 pitches by night's end.
Despite the sweltering conditions, Harper did manage to hang in there and once again hit eight homers in his final round, including on his first three swings. He wasn't confident that total would hold up.
"No, I came off the field and said, that's not enough," he said. "I thought maybe 12. The way he was swinging the bat the first round, he wasn't even trying. It was pretty incredible to watch."
Cespedes indeed had one final barrage in him, blasting nine home runs on his first 14 swings of the round to capture the title.
"He's incredible. He's an absolute machine," Harper said of the Cuban refuge who debuted in America last season. "I can't wait until I'm 23 years old."
Though admitting he was disappointed not to win, Harper still boasted a wide smile afterward. Shoot, he just competed in the Home Run Derby, with his dad on the mound, the two exchanging a big hug as they wrapped things up.
"I'm so thankful and blessed he was able to do that," Bryce Harper said. "What a special opportunity for this. I had a blast."
Said Ron Harper: "I wouldn't trade it for nothing in the world."