Our natural fascination with objects, especially brilliant and new, has intensified in the digital age, compelling us to chase gadgets and line up overnight for the next iPhone or the newest Air Jordan model.
Sending Bryce Harper to baseball's All-Star game, then, is perfectly appropriate.
He's 19 years old. He has been in the major leagues for 21/2 months, long enough for all of 248 at-bats. And the Washington Nationals outfielder was invited, as an injury replacement, to join the likes of Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Justin Verlander and Josh Hamilton this week in Kansas City, Mo.
So continues the relentless and urgent promotion of the young man identified three years ago, through a Sports Illustrated cover story, as baseball's "Chosen One."
That designation, and certain parts of the story -- notably about Harper leaving high school after his sophomore year to accelerate his professional development -- seemed to reveal a calculated grooming similar to that which former Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich barely survived.
Ron Harper's son was 16 and being hot-housed, to his apparent delight, toward an arena of men.
As disturbing as this laboratory strategy felt, it's refreshing to see Harper now being rewarded with an invitation to join the N.L. All-Star team. He was not the most deserving choice as a replacement, but none of the other candidates is more captivating.
It's slightly more captivating
N.L. manager Tony La Russa, likely with input from his coaches and MLB, made the right call on Harper, who replaces Miami slugger Giancarlo Stanton. It's the right call, even if it means Miami is not represented. It's the right call for baseball.
MLB typically is slow to acknowledge its truly phenomenal youngsters, much less capitalize on them. In 2003, when 21-year-old Marlins left-hander Dontrelle Willis was the best story in the game, he initially was passed over by N.L. manager Dusty Baker. Never mind his 9-1 record, his 2.08 ERA or consistently rising demand for tickets to watch the Encinal High product put on a show.
It's the way of the game, we're told. Youngsters must "earn their way.'' Meanwhile, they have to buy snacks and carry bags, even for veterans with half the fan appeal.
Willis eventually was added to the team, chosen by Baker as an injury replacement.
Though Willis in every conceivable way was more deserving of being an All-Star in '03 than Harper is in 2012, having Harper among the festivities is indicative of the sport realizing not only is this an exhibition with stakes but also a showcase event.
"It'd be nice to put our National League young phenom against an American League phenom (Trout), because they've been exciting our baseball world," La Russa told reporters in Kansas City on Monday afternoon. "It's been really good for our game to see Trout and Harper come into the game."
They're good players, yes, but including Harper and Trout is indicative of the kind of marketing genius that usually eludes MLB.
And this opinion comes from the guy who three years ago wrote a column expressing discomfort with Harper's path. It put me firmly on one side of the debate, leading to an appearance on an ESPN investigative report discussing the unorthodox approach being employed by the Harpers.
Harper is among the All-Stars because he's a talented player with a unique back story -- and a revelation to watch.
Each team gets a roster of 34, and he surely is among the 68 most captivating players in baseball. His blend of power and speed are electrifying, and the Mohawk haircut sets him apart. The mascara/war paint stuff on his face really sets him apart.
Harper's numbers are not spectacular: .282 batting average (.354 OBP, .472 slugging), eight home runs, 25 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He exhibits signs of insolence, of being both puckish and pugnacious. But he plays in double overdrive. He's excellent theater, as Tim Lincecum was in 2008, as Willis was in 2003.
Neither Lincecum nor Willis appeared in their first games (though Lincecum might have had he not been ill). Fans clamored for both and got neither. Have MLB and its guardians, and La Russa qualifies, learned enough to avoid making that mistake?
Can there be a moment Tuesday more riveting than Harper in the batter's box?
Baseball has its rules, and they're often hidden or unwritten within other rules. If the sport ignores them and lets Harper take his hacks, it would indicate evolution. It would be a welcome sight, in harmony with our times.
Then, too, as Willis discovered and Lincecum may be discovering, an athlete is a must-see attraction for only so long.