Jim Harper has a national championship ring from his time as a kicker for the University of Colorado soccer team in 1990. He has a badge from the Los Angeles Police Department where he has worked for the past 27 years. He has two daughters who play Division I softball. What the father of senior shortstop Jessie Harper from the University of Arizona doesn’t have is a good arm.
And that’s one of the reasons Jessie Harper currently ranks fourth on the NCAA’s list of all home races at 88. 12 tournament and left the NCAA tournament in their careers.
“I once heard someone say she’s the best bad ball hitter you’ve ever seen,” said Jim Harper. “And I thought about it and thought, ‘Well, the reason she’s the best batsman is because I’m the worst thrower ever.’ It was either to sit there and walk in the batting cage or to hit whatever I threw, so she had to learn to hit a ball up, hit a ball low, hit a ball on her hands, hit a ball outside beat.
“And unfortunately, I’ve never gotten better as a pitcher so she really worked on hitting those balls that are everywhere and I think it helped her, bad as that sounds.”
This helped create one of the most humble power hitters in years. Harper stands 5-foot-6 and gets her strength from her legs. The long ball wasn’t her calling card in high school, but she jumped for 19 as a freshman and surprised her younger sister Makenna, who plays for the Arizona State Sun Devils, for two hours on Interstate 10.
For the next four years, however, Jessie followed in the footsteps of some of the greatest homerun hitters college softball has ever seen. Arizona has five of the top seven places on the all-time list of things – well, make those six the top eight now that Harper firmly positions himself among the greats of the game.
“There’s no place she doesn’t like,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea told ESPN. “She has a big zone but I can’t say she’s a patient batsman. She has great hand-eye coordination and the knack for putting the barrel on the ball.
“She’s never found a place she doesn’t like, so it’s hard to beat someone like this.”
JESSIE HARPER WAS She was sitting in her room in Tucson, Arizona preparing to meet her grandparents for lunch on March 12, 2020 when a Twitter notification lit her phone. The day before, as the sports world screeched to a halt, Harper watched as other college leagues began to cancel their spring season. That Thursday it was her turn to see the disappointment college athletes across the country were beginning to feel. The tweet said the Pac-12 canceled the remainder of the spring sports season. Harper’s heart sank. She texted her grandmother and canceled lunch.
Harper immediately called teammate Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and then ran into her living room, where her teammate and roommate, third baseman Malia Martinez, met them both in tears.
Candrea held a meeting an hour later. It was more of a support group than an informational session. He had no information, but it helped him to be around tearfully. During that meeting, however, Harper made a pledge to return to school for a fifth season if she was able. She went to Tempe to be with her sister and her parents met her there, spent the weekend together, not sure what was to come.
Then, that Monday, Candrea got back in touch with his team to tell them to go home and spend some quality time with their families. Harper returned to Stevenson Ranch in California, a small town outside of Santa Clarita an hour north of downtown Los Angeles.
Over the next two weeks, Harper took her online class and hit her sister floor balls.
“In my head I was like, ‘Well, I hope this blow is worth something,'” she said. “I hope I can play again.”
Harper’s goal was to play professional softball. While the extra work in those two weeks may not have had an impact on her college career, she was hoping she would stay sharp for her shot in the big leagues.
“It’s been an odd two weeks, for sure,” she said. “Definitely in a funk.”
While Harper and the rest of the players were at home, Candrea worked to find a way to convince the forces that should be given another season to seniors across the country.
“I hated seeing her go and not having the senior moment to say goodbye and graduate,” said Candrea. “It was kind of an empty feeling.”
Then on March 30th, Harper and the rest of the Spring Athletes discovered that the NCAA was granting seniors an additional year of eligibility. These ground balls were not lost.
She would have the chance not only to play a full senior season trying to get back to the College World Series, but also to pursue the home run record.
When Harper’s first senior season was canceled after 25 games, she had 76 home runs, making her number 10 on the all-time list, and was preparing to graduate and become an assistant to the Wildcats for two years while doing her Masters – Graduated. Part of that plan was put on hold while the other part sped up. She graduated with a degree in Sociology last May and has spent this school year starting her Masters in Educational Leadership. Her position on Candrea’s staff as a graduate assistant has been put on hold until 2022. But the wait was worth it.
IT HAS BEEN Harper has a hard time not talking about the all-time home run list as it rose this season. She is not looking for it. It’s more like finding her, especially when she’s on Twitter.
The social media aspect of college softball has been a double-edged sword for Harper, especially this season. It helped bring the game to points it had never reached before, but it brought her 95 home races to mind almost every day.
Even so, she is unaware of when to pick another spot on the list, which makes her younger sister difficult for her.
“My sister will make fun of me,” said Harper. I am just playing. I hit a home run, I don’t really count it. “
Harper is very aware of the record and how close it gets to it, but it hasn’t been as productive this season as it has been in previous years. She was stuck on four home runs until she had four home runs in three games against Oregon State in late March. Since then, she has had four homers in 19 games in over five weeks.
Her last came on May 2nd, catapulting her former former Arizona star Stacie Chambers to fourth all-time.
“Records are meant to be broken,” said Chambers. “It’s a part of the game that is fun. Aside from being played, it’s a pretty cool feeling to know that you have the opportunity to do things like that.”
Harper views every home run as a vehicle to victory, not just another step on the all-time home run ladder. She tried the Women’s College World Series in 2019 and most of all, wants to go back. If her homers can help get the wildcats there, that’s even better for the 23-year-old. She has tried to replace, and even think about, the pressures of the persecution by becoming her teammates’ greatest cheerleader by “really glorifying her.”
When Palomino-Cardoza was named Pac-12 Player of the Week in late March, Harper set out to “go overboard”.
The distraction has worked so far, she said.
“I mean, at the end of the day no one really rushes me and says, ‘Oh my god, you have to break it or something else. Dun dun dun,'” Harper said. “As long as I’m just having fun and loving the game, that’s all that is really important to me.
“But I definitely want to use this time in my senior year to really make sure my teammates know they are super awesome because I didn’t expect to be able to play with these girls again. So just the chance to play . ” with you again, i want to make sure you feel the love of me because that’s really what it’s about. “
This is how Chamberlain felt when she chased the 2015 home run record.
“It’s a mix of a lot of emotions,” said Chamberlain. “When you’re a senior you want to play some kind of kumbaya with your teammates and enjoy your last moments together on the field, and you try to leave your lasting legacy as a class to achieve it – their ultimate goal, and I have Heard Jess say before – it’s to get back to the World Series and bring your team to Oklahoma City.
“I think this is the # 1 goal for any competitor, but at the same time you want to leave your personal legacy behind. So that feeling ultimately helps the team win and at the end of the day if you get it.” the record you get the record. “
Candrea didn’t sit down with Harper to discuss the record early in the season, but he saw it in the press early on. She’s started to relax a bit, he said, but Makenna, her sister, thinks the pressure on her has increased.
“If I’m being completely honest, yes,” said Makenna. “Everyone talks about it every time it comes on the plate. Of course, she knows it in the back of her mind, so I guess it just sits there a bit.
“But she’s not too influenced by her game. I mean, honestly, she just wants to be out there.”
As hard as Harper tried not to pay attention to the record, she wants it deep inside. But if she doesn’t do another home run for the rest of the year and finishes her career fourth on the list, or even third or second, she’s fine with that too.
“To be honest, I want to break the record, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “But I won’t feel like this if I don’t. I know I did everything in my power to be the player, the teammate that I am, to get our team where it is have to be.” Be.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to end my college career so overly proud of myself that I still know I’ll be great if I break it or not. That’s all I have to say. Either way I did everything to be who I am and I will go out happily no matter what. “
VIEW EVERY HARPER Tag, Candrea doesn’t see that she wants the home run record.
If she stopped, Harper wants it to break just as quickly.
“There is no trace of selfishness in her,” he said.
Just a lot of home runs.
Harper has witnessed a car chase before. She was a freshman Katiyana Mauga’s teammate in 2017, when Mauga ended her career with 92 home runs, the second all-time and three that Chamberlain failed to tie. Watching Mauga every day – and then hitting 19 home runs of his own – gave Harper both a lesson in hitting the home run and the confidence to feel there.
Now that she is about to hunt Chamberlain, those she has walked past and those she pursues feel worthy of being the newest queen of the home should she get there. But it will be hard to close.
“It’s hard to break a record,” said Chamberlain, who broke former UCLA star Stacey Nuveman’s 13-year record.
As with any record that falls outside the confines of a societal norm, there will be questions. In Harper’s case, everyone will know she had an extra year to do it. Chamberlain wasn’t sure where she’d got it.
Chambers had a clearer opinion.
“In my eyes, all of these seniors are Redshirt seniors this year,” she said. “It’s no different than if someone had a medical red shirt in my eyes.”
And if Harper breaks the record, she will be known as the queen of the home in every room she goes in.
“That’s a good slogan,” said Chamberlain.