Dancing off third base after Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels purposefully drilled him in the back with a first-inning fastball on May 6, Washington Nationals rookie Bryce Harper saw his chance for payback. As Hamels tossed a second pickoff attempt to first, Harper shuffled down the line before accelerating toward the plate. The 19-year-old Las Vegan slid in ahead of the tag, stealing home and amassing yet another highlight in his first two weeks in the big leagues.
Harper has brought a certain Vegas rambunctiousness to Major League Baseball—a fierce will to do it his way. In doing so, he’s earned comparisons to a young Mickey Mantle with his violent cuts at the plate, unbridled base running, wall-crashing catches and cannon-like right arm.
Yes, he’s also had some growing pains along the way—like needing 10 stitches under his left eye after he slammed his bat against the wall and had it bounce back into his face—but it’s his impassioned on-field performance that has earned the most headlines.
And that’s refreshing, because too often when we’re talking sports in Las Vegas, we’re talking about things like stadium proposals, the likelihood of a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, what the point spread is, whether Bishop Gorman should be allowed to compete against public schools—almost everything except the most important thing itself: the game.
In May, though, the joy of the game has been evident across the Las Vegas sports landscape. We often bemoan our lack of major professional sports franchises, but right now our minor-league teams are looking big-league. The Wranglers, our ECHL hockey team, are vying for their first Kelly Cup title in their nine-year history. More than 5,700 fans, including Mike Tyson, watched the Wranglers win Game 1 of the championship series at the Orleans Arena, proving once again that Las Vegas will embrace a winner on any level. Meanwhile, baseball’s venerable 51s have surged, going 14-3 in their last 17 games following a slow start.
Las Vegas’ biggest sporting news of the week was Findlay Prep basketball star Anthony Bennett’s decision to take his talents to UNLV. Bennett, one of the nation’s top high school players, never really seemed to embrace the hype surrounding his recruitment, and appears to feel at home in Las Vegas. But what’s most refreshing is that he based his decision in part on the opportunity to play alongside his good friend and fellow Canadian Khem Birch, who transferred to UNLV in January. Two friends, one team, one joyful sport. Because sometimes it really is about the game.