Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bryce Harper and other can't-miss teen athletes

Raise your hand if you'd heard of Bryce Harper three weeks ago. I hadn't. Then came the Sports Illustrated cover. Then, Sunday, Harper's dad held a news conference to announce that his son, a high school baseball prodigy, maybe THE prodigy of the past 30 years, had opted to drop out of school after his sophomore year (at 16), take the GED, enroll at a community college - all part of an accelerated plan to qualify by 2010 for the Major League Baseball amateur draft.

Ron Harper must have been feeling a bit embattled because he was quoted saying this: "People question your parenting and what you're doing. Honestly, we don't think it's that big a deal. He's not leaving school to go work in a fast food restaurant. Bryce is a good kid. He's smart and he's going to get his education."

Who can say whether this will work out for Bryce. There are LeBrons and Tigers out there who make a strong case that some kids are going to be superstars sooner or later, so why not sooner? Yet when I hear about can't-miss teens, I can't help thinking about the ones who do miss. There are a lot more of those than there are LeBrons and Tigers.

Eight years ago, I wrote an article for BusinessWeek about a golfing phenom, Ty Tryon. Tryon was 17 when he dropped out of high school, signed rich sponsorship deals with Callaway Golf and Target, and headed off for the PGA Tour. It wouldn't have been fair for Ty's parents to hold back their gifted son. He had that much talent. His prospects were so bright. Or so the story went.

Ty is still trying to qualify for the PGA Tour.

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