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Boston's Middlebrooks, Washington's Harper renew AFL friendship

The SportsXchange

Between them, Will Middlebrooks and Bryce Harper are two of the majors' top rookies.

And they share a mutual admiration.

Middlebrooks and Harper were teammates last October in the Arizona Fall League, a finishing school for baseball's top prospects, most of whom have bright futures but few who are as young as Harper. Last month, the Boston Red Sox called up Middlebrooks within a few days of the Washington Nationals promoting Harper.

"It's amazing that he's 19 and he's competing like he is," Middlebrooks told the Boston Herald on Friday before the Red Sox opened a three-game interleague series with a 7-4 loss to the Nationals at Fenway Park. "I wasn't even close to what he is (at age 19). It's hard for me to even talk about because I'm 23, he's 19. There's a lot of hype around him, which I agree with. I know why there is. He's a kid playing with men. It's fun to watch."

Last fall, Middlebrooks and Harper became fast friends, often having dinner and hanging out away from the field. Middlebrooks marveled at Harper's ability and aggressiveness -- the word he uses to describe him is "fearless" -- while Harper quickly realized that Middlebrooks could help the Red Sox this season.

"He's a gamer, and he can swing the crap out of that bat, oh my gosh," Harper told the Herald. "I said to him, 'Man, you're going to have fun playing at Fenway because the way you hit the ball to left and center, it's going to be a lot of fun for you.' It's very cool to see him up here. He's going to be a great fit for the Red Sox. It's going to be a lot of fun for him and everyone around him."

Middlebrooks is batting .318 and slugging .545 with seven doubles, six homers and 22 RBI in 29 games. Harper, meanwhile, has become a mainstay in center field for the Nationals, batting .288 with eight doubles, four triples, six homers, 17 RBI and an .899 OPS.

And they have kept close tabs on one another. When Middlebrooks got called up, he received a congratulatory text message from Harper.

"I told him, 'Go get that AL Rookie of the Year. You and (Angels outfielder Mike) Trout are going to be working for it, so have some fun doing it,'" Harper said. "It's a great opportunity being up here playing. Seeing my buddies like Will come up and play also, it's very cool. To look over and see that he's playing on the other side, it's awesome."
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