A Message to Nationals Fans Before Bryce Harper’s Return

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Bryce Harper #34 during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 16: Bryce Harper #34 during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Ex-Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is set to return to D.C. for the first time as a Philidelphia Philly Tuesday night.

For the Washington Nationals and their fans, Tuesday night is going to be electric. The Nationals (1-2) take on the Philidelphia Phillies (3-0) for the first time in the 2019 season.

This, of course, means Bryce Harper will make his highly anticipated return to the city that he called home for the first seven years of his Major League career.

The emotions surrounding this game are higher than any in recent Nationals history, and the atmosphere at Nationals Park is going to be electric. But before the 26-year-old Phillies right fielder steps onto the field as a member of Philidelphia for the first time, there is something that needs to be said to Nationals fans.

Bryce Harper wanted to be a Washington National for life. Point blank, period. That statement is fact, and if Ted Lerner and the Nationals ownership wanted it as badly as Bryce did, he would be running out to right field in the top of the first inning tomorrow night giving a bow to the Nats fans in the outfield seats. So first off if someone has to shoulder the blame for these events occurring, blame the Nationals ownership, not Harper.

In a column that came out yesterday by Bary Svrluga of the Washington Post, Harper was quoted as saying he believed, after his near Christmas meeting with the Lerners, that he was headed back to Washington for the rest of his career.

“I walked away from that meeting like, ‘I want to go back, so let’s get the friggin’ deal done,’ ” Harper said. “I told Scott: ‘If we can get the thing done with them, like, now, let’s go. Because I want to get it done, be back in D.C., and be done with it.’”

Harper even was adamant in telling his wife Kayla that a deal with Washington was going to be done, and was open about how excited he was about the possibility of returning to D.C.

“I’m sitting there like, ‘I’m going to be a National. I’m going to be a National,’” he said. “‘They’re going to make me an offer this week. We’re going to build off of that, and it’s going to happen.’ I told Kayla, ‘Be ready to go back.’ I flat-out told her. I was psyched. I was like, ‘Be ready to go back, because if we can, we’re going back.’ I was pumped.”

Harper believed his long-awaited wish of playing his entire career in a Nationals uniform was going to come true until Ted Lerner and Nationals ownership came with their second and only counter-offer. According to the column by Svrluga, the offer was for 12 years and $250 million, and the last payment of the deal would not come until 2072. This is roughly $75 million less than what Harper eventually got with the Phillies.

It was at this point that the Harper to Philidelphia reality became real, and a little under two months after the Nationals made their final offer to Bryce, the most talented player in their franchise’s history walked away to a division rival.

To this day it still seems strange looking at Harper in a Phillies uniform, and it is hard not to wonder would Washingon be better off with Bryce locked up long-term, or with the combo of Patrick Corbin/Matt Adams/Yan Gomes.

But that is a moot point, and Harper is going to be playing against the Nationals for the next 13 years. That is 247 games at least between the two ballclubs.

The common prevailing though around some Nationals fans is that Harper betrayed Washington by leaving for a division rival, but it seems more like in reality the Nationals ownership betrayed Bryce.

After their low-ball second offer they clearly never planned to go to serious lengths to retain Harper and seemed keen on the decision to just let him walk and move on.

Tuesday night for Harper himself, and all fans in attendance it will be a very emotional stage. But as hard as it may be to do with him wearing a non-Nationals jersey, think about all that Harper did for the Nationals and all the memories he gave fans.

Think about how in 2010 the Nationals drafted this 17-year-old kid from Nevada, changing the history of their franchise forever.

Think about his Major League Debut on April 28, 2012, or his first ever postseason home run against the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2012 NLDS when he made it around the bases in about 10 seconds.

Think about the countless Opening Day home runs, the hustle doubles, the amazing hair flips, the signature salute to the crowd after every home run.

His MVP season in 2015 where he hit five home runs in three days, the game-tying homer against the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 NLDS, the list goes on and on.

Think about the passion he played with every single day, the fire he brought to the ballpark on a nightly basis, and how he gave every ounce he had of himself to help the team reach their goals.

Jayson Werth always will get tons of credit for being the leader in changing the culture in Washington and taking the Nationals from a bottom of the barrel team to a contender, but the realization is without Harper, none of that likely happens. Harper put Nationals baseball on the map and brought publicity and attention to baseball in D.C. that they could only dream about before his arrival.

He was the face of Washington Nationals baseball. If you went to a game you would see nearly one out of every three people with a Bryce Harper shirt on. Harper was responsible for getting so many young children interested in Nationals baseball. They watched the way he played and replicated him, wishing one day they could become what he is. He was beloved in Washington, and deservingly so.

More important than all of the on-the-field accolades mentioned above, we as fans got to see a 17-year-old kid transform into a 26-year-old grown man right before our very eyes. Harper’s growth and maturity as a person was easily seen if you followed the Nationals closely, and it is something Washington fans should always cherish. Getting to grow up right alongside Bryce.

On Tuesday Harper announced that he and his wife Kayla are expecting their first child, so even to this day, Bryce continues to grow up more and more.

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So before Harper steps into the batter’s box Tuesday night Nationals fans take a minute to think. Soak up the memories of one of the greatest ever to put the Curly W on his chest. When he steps onto that field stand up and thank him for everything he did on and off the field for Washington Nationals baseball. Appreciate the passion he brought to the game off baseball in D.C. Bryce Harper was a great National, and for all the memories he gave me, I for one am thankful.