Bryce Harper has been on the radar for many baseball fans since 2009, when Sports Illustrated put the then 16-year old Harper on its cover and comparing him to basketball superstar LeBron James, who also was dominating his sport during his high school days before coming to the pros. And when it was time for him to go to the Major League Baseball draft, the Washington Nationals were the fortunate ones that were able to get him to sign a contract, seconds before a deadline where they would lose his rights. When he started playing in the pros, wow.
He went to the minor leagues first, and after a slow start in Class A ball, it was discovered that his vision was horrible. Bearing in mind this was said after scores of games in college where he batted almost .500 over one season. Once he was fitted for contacts his domination of the minor leagues resumed before he was recalled in early 2012. At one of his first home games he was hit with a pitch by a pitcher (Cole Hamels, who later would admit to the pitch being deliberate as he objected to the way Harper played the game), and got payback for it by stealing home plate later in the inning for an early National lead and win. Harper's brash play, his long hair, beard, copious amounts of eye-black took MLB by surprise but in his rookie year, batted .270 with 22 home runs, helping the Nationals win their first pennant, and securing an appearance in the All-Star game and earn Rookie of the Year honors, all before his 20th birthday. With the chaos of his year, the decision to chronicle it was made and thus, Bryce Begins was born.
At 45 minutes, the special was initially broadcast on ESPN but has now been released for further viewings on DVD and as far as short features go it is not bad, albeit a little overly promotional (the disc starts with an Under Armour commercial featuring Harper after all). It includes lots of interview time with and following around Harper as he recounts his 2011 year in the minors, which included a blown kiss to a pitcher whom he hit a homer off of. While he received some grief for it, with context of the incident included here should make some people walk their derision back a little. He comes upon a recreational softball game in Washington and partakes in it, and seeing him travel from the minors to the big leagues, following him through the airport to get to Dodger Stadium (where he played in front of his family) for his debut. His parents and brother are also interviewed to give some more insight as to Bryce's makeup, and Bryce getting emotional about his parents and leaving home for baseball is resonant even for a non-baseball fan.
The main takeaway about Bryce Begins is seeing that for all the presumed bluster and outrage over what Harper does on the field or in the locker room (infamously dismissing a reporter with ‘That's a clown question, bro' in one post-game session), he seems to remain honest to himself and determined to play as best and as hard as he can. Watching him at the 2012 All-Star game, Harper is certainly among the League's Elite and remains somewhat awestruck by meeting some of them. Seeing nearby Baltimore Oriole legend Cal Ripken Jr. share his thoughts on Harper almost seems like a stamp of approval during it all.
Bryce Begins wraps up around the 2013 Opening Day point, so we do not see his notable 2013 moments such as when he ran into the outfield wall at Dodger Stadium. Before this incident, a story about him playing host to a young boy with terminal brain cancer showed his more caring side, something not many people get to experience. And for a baseball fan living in Washington, perhaps the best part of Bryce Begins is that there are ample opportunities for a sequel.
Presented with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Bryce Begins is quite solid material to watch. Colors are vivid and devoid of saturation issues, there is some crushing in darker moments but nothing that is too distracting, and the film uses interviews and slightly older video sequences capably and without concern. It reproduces the television experience accurately and without concern.
Two-channel Dolby is the way of the world for the disc, and it is also complaint-free. Everything in the front of the theater is consistent and requires little to no user adjustment and sounds as straightforward as the video presentation was.
Some additional footage that shows Harper's first plate appearance, stolen base, home run and All-Star Game appearance, among other notables (24:52). These are the longer segments with original broadcast audio play by play calls, similar to what A&E does with their World Series sets, and these firsts are nice to see on their own.
For those who may have a preconceived notion about Bryce Harper, Bryce Begins attempts to dissolve such beliefs and I think does so effectively, despite the occasional saccharine notes that may come through at times. Technically it is a decent disc and the supplements are nice. Natinal(sic) fans will snap this up despite the likely fact that most of this video could be found online somewhere, but it is worth viewing nonetheless.