This past week saw the Washington Nationals' organization have to deal with two unique situations involving one of their hottest prospects in the minors and a prospect not even signed to the team yet. Both events have made the rounds in the media to the point the dead horse is being poured into glue bottles. The overall opinion, no matter how exaggerated and illogical, is these situations don't necessarily shine the proper angelic light on the apparent altar boys that make up the Nationals.
On June 6th, phenom Bryce Harper was starring against yet another opponent in the South Atlantic League with the Hagerstown Suns when, after hitting a home run and rounding third base, he was caught "blowing a kiss" to the opposing pitcher. This sparked controversy about everything from Harper's maturity and character traits to people actually questioning if the 18-year old respects the game. Yes, he just blew a kiss. Nothing more, if you are wondering.
This was followed two days later by the discovery of Zach Houchins' Twitter account that was full of racial and derogatory no-nos that would make "Birth of A Nation" change to technicolor. It is not everyday someone tweets they are going to defecate on a whole group of people and that sort of thing makes hot news in the social media world. Houchins is an infielder the Nationals selected in the 15th round of the Player's Draft this year. He has yet to be signed, and there are questions if the Nationals will even try now that this story has broke. Houchins has apologized and deleted both his Twitter and Facebook accounts since this story broke.
The backlash from these two events has been tremendous and talked about so much it would give Charlie Brown's teacher a sore throat. Various opinions have stated that Harper needs to be reeled in and policed before he goes further out of control (I just double-checked to make sure he just blew a kiss. Yep, that is all). Many in Natstown don't even want Houchins signed to the team anymore and have labeled him trash and a bigot. I even had one fan tell me that Harper is well on his way to becoming the next Nyjer Morgan.
Okay, whoa, lets stop right there. Pull over. We need to take a breather.
Are we seriously comparing an 18-year not even six months into his career to a 30-year old with a split personality who has been passed around the league like a bottle of Old Crow around a trash barrel fire? Have we really gotten to that ludicrous level of talking points? I understand that, to old-fart purists and the politically correct, the situations these two youngsters put themselves in are horrible and blasphemous, but I think fans are seriously forgetting exactly who we are critiquing and judging here: kids.
Believe it or not, Harper and Houchins are kids. Yes, they are part of the greatest sport in America, but that doesn't change the fact they are kids taking part in the greatest sport in America. Playing the game does not make them immune to making mistakes, the same mistakes many of us made at that age. The only difference is their mistakes happen under the microscope of the pubic eye.
Harper's kiss is probably the biggest non-story ever. He blew a kiss, he showed up the pitcher in a Minor League game. Big deal. Kids will be kids. It doesn't mean he will be doing it when he hits the Bigs and it doesn't mean he needs to go on Prozac or he doesn't respect the game. Smack talk and giving other players the 1-Up is deeply rooted in American sports on all levels and it isn't going to go away. People need to accept this fact. In a game that can get emotional and competitive, reactions happen.
As for Houchins, while I in no way condone his language and labeling, we have to look below the surface of the comments themselves. We need to be honest with ourselves and our society: the use of foul language and slang to show affection towards friends and peers is nothing new. Do we not sometimes accept this and laugh half the time as a society? It isn't right, but it is strangely accepted in some circles.
I am not saying there should be free passes for every situation a minor league kid gets into. There are some lines you should not cross. Garrett Guzman learned that in 2008, and does anyone really feel comfortable having Esmailyn Gonzalez still in the system? Harper definitely didn't cross a major line except in the ridiculous ghost rules known as the "baseball unwritten rules." Houchins came close, but I just can't completely ding him for something that is sewn into the fabric of America's sociology.
Some complain they won't cheer for players like these. How quickly we forget the likes of Dmitri Young (domestic assault/drugs), Elijah Dukes (domestic assault/not paying child support) and Lastings Milledge (questionable hip-hop lyrics). Or how about Livan Hernandez, his strange fetishes and possible involvement with a drug kingpin? Ivan Rodriguez and Jerry Hairston Jr. were mentioned in the Mitchell Report. Adam LaRoche and Jordan Zimmermann stalk and kill Bambi yearly. Should these players not get more of the public scorn for their actions because they are "mature professional baseball players?"
The Nationals aren't suffering from a discipline problem or Minor Leaguers going wild. They are merely experiencing the growing pains of their young players on and off the field, magnified by the occupation they have chosen to pursue. I don't want Harper to be reeled in for his Major League debut. I want him to be unleashed. If the Nationals saw something in Houchins to take him in the 15th round, I think they should still look to sign him.
There are worse organizational crimes than being naive kids trying to find their place in this mad, mad, mad world.