On Monday night, Nationals fans fell back in love with Bryce Harper who is the soon-to-be free agent slugger mired in a protracted funk for months for the Washington Nationals. Harper made his adopted city proud as he put on a power display that was nothing short of what you would expect from “The Natural” which is a fictional movie about Roy Hobbs who obliterates baseballs into the stratosphere for long home runs. Bryce at the age of 16 was dubbed the “Chosen One” for a Sports Illustrated cover and SI was probably correct in terms of baseball marketing where Harper excels.
How “Hollywood” was the ending to the Home Run Derby which was won by the hometown slugger Bryce Harper? He was down by 18 home runs to Kyle Schwarber to begin the finals of the HR Derby. Harper smashed exactly 18 bombs to tie the Cubs power-man in regulation time including 8 homers in a row on 8 consecutive swings — in 47 seconds remaining as Bryce’s “pops” Ron Harper grooved in pitches in quick succession into Bryce’s wheelhouse.
Harper earned the 30 second bonus round and with 43,000+ fans on their feet cheering Bryce on he only needed 1-swing to walk-off on Schwarber and take the HR Derby crown!
“It was like a Hollywood script for an Academy Award winning performance,” Nationals’ principal owner Mark Lerner said. “Who writes things that way? It was amazing. Nobody expected to be that [way] winning by one. The whole thing. It was great. I’m glad to see Bryce do it. I know how much he wanted it.”
Credit to Ron Harper who had the pressure on him as Bryce’s hand-picked Derby pitcher just as he was in Bryce’s HR Derby debut in 2013 at CitiField and the 53-year-old former steelworker who had shoulder surgery in 2015 and rehabbed himself to a bigger, stronger version of himself for this year’s Derby was a key to Bryce’s victory.
For one day we could celebrate Bryce in all of his glory on the big stage. His All-Star week started with a park dedication in Fairfax, Virginia and then to the team hotel at the Marriott Marquis near the DC Convention Center for the press conferences where Harper generally attracts the most media. Soon after Bryce prepped at Nationals Park for his primetime showing for the Home Run Derby. He had his manager Dave Martinez as his “towel” man.
“I love that man,” Harper said about Davey Martinez. “I would run through a frickin’ brick wall for him.”
We don’t think Davey Martinez wants him running through brick walls — just to first base — truth be told as that would make Davey’s life easier so he does not have to answer the media questions about Harper’s supposed lack of hustle where the real opinion on that lies in the eye’s of the beholder.
On this day, Bryce was smiling. He had a great time on the field with former teammate Wilson Ramos who brought Harper a drink and a towel during the Home Run Derby which received a rousing applause and current teammates Sean Doolittle and Max Scherzer were part of Harper’s pit crew also.
Harper was dressed to the nines with a patriotic accoutrement from Under Armour who designed his cleats, batting gloves and arm sleeve, and Harper also donned a Washington, DC flag headband, Stance socks, and a patriotic bat designed by Victus that Harper used to crush 44 home runs and 3.5 miles worth of combined distance on those dingers.
Yes, “We The People” have spoken is part of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution and that was painted on Harper’s bat. “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” You would think those words were part of a marriage or possibly a marriage between a baseball player and the only pro system he has ever played for.
We love you Bryce and you loved us back this week. You said how you would like to play in your adopted city of Washington, DC if it happens. It takes two to tango as your general manager Mike Rizzo always likes to say and if you were at the dedication of the Fairfax County park named for Bryce Harper on Monday morning, you heard Bryce’s love for his manager and in turn for the Washington Nationals as Martinez is under contract for over 2 more years as part of his 3-year deal with the Nationals.
“I look forward to hopefully playing with [Dave Martinez] for the next 10-12 years,” Harper said to loud applause. “He’s one of the best so — hopefully — we will see what happens.”
If Harper really wants to play for 12 more years for the Nationals, he could make it happen quickly if he was willing to take a deal in the $275 million range as you certainly would expect Nats ownership to jump on a deal like that — but that does not sound realistic for a player who seemed eager last year to test free agency and push his numbers closer to $400 million or more where he said in his words “don’t sell me short.” On Monday night after the Home Run Derby, Bryce showed more love for Washington DC and his Nats fans.
“That’s the kid you [saw] out there tonight, and I was fortunate to share that with you guys and show that to the fans,” Harper said. “This wasn’t only for me and my family and everybody like that… I mean, this is the whole city of D.C. I was very fortunate to be able to bring this back to [our fans] and do it here [in Nationals Park]. I love you D.C.”
Maybe this was all about what has been missing and this was Bryce’s attempt to heal wounds and do some fence mending with some of the fans who have taken the tact of “what have you done for me lately” because lately, Harper is hitting below his weight and only 14 points above the Mendoza Line.
Some fans feel the best place for Bryce to be employed at is an American League team where Mike Rizzo can trade him for prospect(s) while others have correctly said that if the Nationals traded him while they are in the playoff hunt would be committing sports suicide. Harper is still the most popular Nationals player. He is not the best player on his team and according to Fangraphs he is the 8th most valuable contributor on the 2018 Nationals team, but off the field he is still numero uno because of his immense popularity to the typical fan. They are still naming parks after him even though he could be playing for a team far from D.C. next year! The seven higher rated Nationals players in front of Harper are: Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Sean Doolittle, Juan Soto, Matt Adams and Stephen Strasburg. How many parks do those 7 have named after them in the DC area? A grand total of zero combined. Bryce Harper has three now.
On Tuesday before the All-Star game, Bryce Harper walked the red carpet with his wife and he showed up looking like he was cut-out of the pages of GQ Magazine.
Unfortunately and probably predictably, Harper looked tired on Tuesday after he cranked more home runs last night than he has in any single season. The former MVP struck-out in both of his 2 at-bats last night. Harp was not the only strikeout victim of the night. Brandon Crawford, Mookie Betts, Yan Gomes and Salvador Perez each K’d twice and were part of the 25 strikeouts in the game that seemed like an all-or-nothing game that featured more home runs (10) than singles (9) which certainly felt like this was HR Derby II. The issue for Harper was some fans on social media turned on him quickly with mocking him as “there’s the Bryce Harper we know” after the strikeouts.
What have you done for me lately Bryce?
Enjoy these two video interviews with Bryce Harper: