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July 30, 2015

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For cash-strapped CSN baseball, Bryce Harper’s donation a game-changer

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Steve Marcus

Coach Nick Garritano poses with a Bryce Harper donated bat at Morse stadium at the College of Southern Nevada in Henderson, Tuesday, March 26, 2013. Harper, a former CSN player now with the Washington Nationals, recently donated 40 new and used professional bats to the CSN baseball team.

Bryce Harper Donates Baseball Bats to CSN

Morgan Stotts holds a bat donated by Bryce Harper at Morse stadium at the College of Southern Nevada in Henderson, Tuesday, March 26, 2013. Harper, a former CSN player now with the Washington Nationals, recently donated 40 new and used professional bats to the CSN baseball team. Launch slideshow »

When College of Southern Nevada assistant baseball coach Sean Larimer received a text message from Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper late last week asking for his mailing address, he knew Harper was going to send some equipment for the junior college program.

Larimer just didn’t expect it to be this much.

Monday, four boxes arrived at Larimer’s front door with a return shipping label from the Nationals’ clubhouse. He opened the boxes and found 40 Marucci wooden bats — some new and some game-used — that could potentially give the No. 4-ranked Coyotes a distinct advantage the rest of the season.

Larimer was the CSN team manager in 2010 when the Las Vegas native Harper set a program single-season record with 31 home runs in helping the Coyotes reach the Junior College World Series, and like others affiliated with the team, has stayed in contact with Harper over the years. Before Harper left for spring training in February, he donated about a dozen bats after visiting a practice.

Most of college baseball is played with aluminum bats, but CSN’s highly competitive Scenic West Athletic Conference is a wood-only league. Larimer says the average player goes through eight bats a year, making Harper’s generosity a big-time score for the financially strapped team.

“The cool thing is he initiated everything,” Larimer said.

The bats are made with maple wood, which is preferred over ash wood by many big-leaguers because it is more durable, Larimer said. Also, because the bats are used on baseball’s biggest stage, they are made with a higher quality of wood.

Some of the used bats came from other major leaguers under contract with Marucci such as Pablo Sandoval, Chase Utley, Todd Helton and Bobby Abreu. Each had the major leaguer’s name imprinted on the side, while Harper’s bat also included a Bible verse (Luke 1:37) and his No. 34 in the Nationals' blue and red colors on the bottom of the handle. The used bats also had pine tar.

When Larimer brought the boxes of bats onto the field Tuesday during a practice and unloaded them on the field, players slowly made their way over to admire the collection. Some are using composite bats, which are designed not to break but not of high quality.

Needless to say, everyone was impressed.

“It’s pretty awesome for college students to have free bats,” said Chad Whiteaker, a sophomore infielder and one of the team’s leading batters. “It’s definitely going to help us out a lot.”

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Bryce Harper, left, celebrates after scoring a run during the Junior College World Series. The College of Southern Nevada catcher was the first overall pick of the Washington Nationals in Monday's MLB First-Year Player Entry Draft.

Each bat is valued at $150 or higher and is a luxury the players wouldn’t have if not for the generosity of CSN's most famous alumnus. Coach Nick Garritano said the program operates on about $200,000 annually, which includes the salary for five coaches, uniforms and equipment, travel and hotels, and products to manicure the field.

In addition to Harper, bats have also been donated by New York Mets executive Dick Scott. Scott’s son, Ryan Scott, was on the World Series team in 2010. Big-leaguer Ryan Ludwick, who played at Durango High and UNLV, has also donated baseballs.

“That budget is A to Z, every piece of equipment the kids use or jersey they wear,” Garritano said. “We have to raise a lot of money every year, so for a donation like this to come our way, we are thrilled. We just don’t have $10,000 laying around to spend on bats.”

The 20-year-old Harper has no problem helping out his former team. CSN’s roster is about 80 percent local, meaning Harper grew up playing with or against most of the players. Others are friends he frequently stays in contact with.

Harper left Las Vegas High School for CSN following his sophomore year and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a headline proclaiming him as “Baseball’s Chosen One.” He led CSN to the World Series in setting the home run record — his 31 longballs shattered the previous mark of 12 — and won the Golden Spikes Award given to the best amateur player.

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This Oct. 12, 2012 file photo shows Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper reacting as he heads home on a home run by Ryan Zimmerman during the first inning of Game 5 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Washington.

He was an all-star last year in his rookie season with the Nationals, finishing with 18 home runs and 59 RBIs in helping them surprisingly win the National League East.

The home runs he hit at CSN are still being talked about by locals. In college, he also swung the high-end Marucci bats. But just because Harper had success with the bats, doesn’t mean the current CSN players will.

“No matter what type of product you have, you have to have the right surgeon operating, if you will,” Garritano said. “If our kids are swinging it well, it is the best lumber, it is the best wood. But just because it is Bryce Harper’s bat, doesn’t mean it will automatically work and our kids will start hitting it all over.”

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or ray.brewer@lasvegassun.com. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21.

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