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There are dozens of sporting events I could watch this fine Sunday afternoon, but instead of watching pro football, NASCAR or hockey, I’m watching a baseball game that doesn’t really matter to anyone in the D.C. area.
You know why.
Bryce Harper will be putting on a Washington National jersey potentially for the last time. He’s a free agent after the season, and nobody knows where he’s going to end up.
But in your heart, you really do know.
Harper has always been on loan to the Nationals until he got to the point of being a free agent. From that evening in Los Angeles in 2012 when he was called up due to a rash of injuries for the Nationals, until the day the team was eliminated from the 2018 race, we knew.
He’s not staying.
You can give me all the reasons he should stay. You can give me all the reason he could stay. But Washington – despite what he says – is not his home. Las Vegas is his home. He grew up a Yankees fan, and you can’t tell the heart what it should or shouldn’t want. His wife went to college in the Midwest.
None of those points of interest involve the Nation’s Capital.
So if he goes to the Yankees, that’s where his heart is. If he goes to the Chicago Cubs, it’s familiar for him and his wife, and much closer to Vegas. If he goes to the Dodgers, he’s an easy drive home. All three have a lot of money, and all three have no problems spending as much of it as possible.
I’ll miss him. In sports it’s fashionable to turn on someone who is leaving you and say they won’t be missed. To me, Harper and Jayson Werth were the key elements of that magical 2012 season when the Nationals finally made it over the hump and the team advanced to post season. They were the old man and the pup, it seemed, with Werth mentoring and needling Harper while both had a flair for the dramatic with key hits in pressure situations.
His time here hasn’t been perfect, and no player’s tenure with a team is. But as a Dad, it’s been nice to see a strong-willed young man grow with each year under a microscope. Has he lost his temper on the field several times? Yes. Have there been times he didn’t hustle? Sure.
But have there been times he embarrassed the franchise or did things of a negative fashion off the field? No. He maintained his professionalism every where he went, was generous with his time, and said the right things virtually every time. The Nats paid him a lot of money, but Harper performed well for that compensation.
I have no complaints.
There will undoubtedly be baseball purists that can show me statistics that say I’m not looking at this correctly. But Harper was part of the spark that moved the Nationals from “hey, we at least have a team” to “hey, this team could be in the World Series.” And since 2012, every new season bought new hope. They never won a playoff series, but there was hope, something the franchise hadn’t had before coming to Washington.
I watched a video of the celebration the night the team clinched a playoff spot in 2012 a few days ago and was struck by two things: One, even though it has only been six years, it seemed like another lifetime ago; two, there were so many players on that team that brought back warm memories, but they were also notable in that they were no longer with the team. A lot of them, in fact.
Harper will be just the latest. And with plenty of talent in the pipeline, this team will still have hope every season.
But there’s nothing like that first season when you make it to the dance. Harper was integral to that, and for me, will always be a special player for the franchise.
After today’s game, however, I have little doubt he’s gone. There will be talks, and negotiations, and reports of a deal being close, then we will wake up to read he has agreed to terms with another team for gazillions of dollars. It is the nature of professional sports.
So no matter how or when things reach that point, I wish you well Bryce. Wherever you end up. It's been real.
Thanks for the memories.