Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper might have changed the mood in D.C. in just a couple of days.
Dubbed “the most disappointing team in baseball”, this season has been a stuggle for the Washington Nationals. The club came into the All-Star break with a mediocre 48-48 record, and have been unable to perform even close to last year’s 97-win season. What Nationals players and fans needed was a chance to catch their breath, and that came with the Home Run Derby at Nats Park on Monday, July 16.
The person who desperately needed the break the most was Harper himself. The power numbers were there, but the hitting numbers and discipline were not, putting up a .214 batting average going into Monday. Of all the accomplished sluggers making an appearance in the competition, no one captivated more attention than Harper. The 25-year-old had been offered a spot in the derby several times before, but made it clear that he would not participate until the All-Star festivities took place in Washington. He did not disappoint.
With his father pitching to him, Harper blasted his way to a 19-18 win over the Chicago Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber. Nine of his home runs came in the final minute of the round, and the clinching bomb was sent into the D.C. sky 10 seconds into his extra time. It was almost as if Nationals fans expected Harper to pull it off. They needed it, he needed it, and they willed him to win.
Harper’s performance was the most animated Washington fans had seen him all year. The win seemed to further the speculation that this may not be his last go-around as a National. In his walk season, the hype surrounding the Harper question has with his stats. Talks of Los Angeles or New York have simmered down, and to Nationals fans’ delight, there could be a good chance he sticks around Washington a little longer.
A change in coaching contributed to a more excited Harper as well. During the opening of Bryce Harper All-Star Complex in Herndon, Va., Harper spoke openly of rookie Nationals manager Dave Martinez, praising him as one of the best managers he’s ever played for.
“I look forward to hopefully playing with him for the next 10, 12 years.” Harper said through NBC Sports Washington. “He’s one of the best, so hopefully, we’ll see what happens.”
In an interview with ESPN, Harper talked about his love for D.C. and the resurgence of emotion he experienced during the derby. He even went so far as to say that a World Series win for the Nationals would be bigger than the Washington Capitals Stanley Cup victory in June. When Harper was asked if he wanted to be a Nat, he answered candidly:
“I enjoy it, I enjoy playing for them.”
From stealing the show at the Home Run Derby to easing the uncertainty of where he’ll end up in free agency, Bryce Harper put a smile on D.C. fans’ faces this week.