Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper faces biggest challenge

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 13: Bryce Harper
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 13: Bryce Harper /

This is a watershed year for Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals. How he handles the endless pressure will define his career for years.

For Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper, this is the season he has waited his whole life for.

Not only does he hope to guide his team past that dreaded National League Divisional Series hump, but all the way to the World Series. Not like Harper is facing any pressure.

Whenever the Nats season finishes, presumably Harper becomes the most sought after free agent in baseball history. Again, no pressure on that front either.

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Yeah, right.

Harper relishes the harsh spotlight. From the time in high school when he smashed batting practice home runs off the Tropicana Field scoreboard in Tampa to every bat flip since. You remember, the batter who owns Opening Day?

This season promises to be unlike any other. Washington in search for redemption while waiting on what their biggest star does. Television show writers dream of storylines like these. Goodness, some of you pay money to watch nights of pro wrestling with dramatic setups.

Brother, strap yourself in and get ready for the wildest ride ever.

After the knee injury last August against San Francisco, Harper tried his best to get ready by the time the playoffs started. He was not 100 percent and we know what happened. Two years ago came the season of the injury which must not be admitted. He was not right all year.

Now, with a new manager and a strong sense of urgency from the hot dog vendors to ownership, Harper must put this team on his back and show the sports world what he can do.

Washington is lucky. The Nats are so deep they play as a true ensemble cast. All-Stars in the field, Cy Young pitchers on the mound. Any of the 25 players on the roster can shine.

Harper has an NL Most Valuable Player award on his resume, but the Nats fell short of the postseason in 2015. He has the confidence to win a second while making a third consecutive playoff appearance.

But, as with any star in a contract year, Harper faces challenges from all angles.

We saw last year how anything posted on social media turned into an instant rumor. Chicago? New York? Los Angeles? Imagine the frenzy the longer 2018 goes. You get the sense the fun disappears the 50th time he gets asked about either last year or his future in West Palm Beach.

Playing for a new contract is never easy, especially in his position. Is he worth the money? Would Harper play this hard in the past? Did fans go through his home garbage for tips?

The same goes for pursuing a deep playoff run. Has Washington put together a staff and crew capable of winning a Game 5?

How Harper handles these distractions will dictate what kind of year the Nats have. Somehow, he must. He has dreamed of this year his entire life. Finally, it is here.

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No pressure or anything.