There was touching moment Friday night during the Nationals’ 3-2 victory over the Marlins.
Following his three-run homer in the first inning, left fielder Bryce Harper was met at home plate by his teammate, right fielder Jayson Werth. Werth had a big smile on his face, looking like a big brother who was happy with what little brother was able to accomplish.
You could see in the exchange the pride Werth had for Harper after he hit his 20th homer of the season. Later in the inning, MASN cameras caught Werth sitting on the front bench in the dugout, talking with Harper, who was standing to his left. It was a familiar site that happens often as Harper learns the ways of the game from Werth.
“J-Dub has been there since the beginning, ever since I was drafted,” Harper said. “He has done a lot of things for me. He has been there for me the first two years in the big leagues.
“I owe him a lot. Everything he has done for me from outfield, base running, hitting, just having that veteran experience from him dealing with pitchers and dealing with outfield situations, things like that.
“He is like an older brother to me. I think having him here and having him teaching me things every day, it has been pretty incredible.”
Harper said lessons learned from Werth haven’t always been kind and gentle. The harsh realities of playing the game the right way, not losing your cool over one at-bat or one play, and playing smart have been among thoselessons. Harper appreciates the “tough love” Werth provided these first two seasons to help mold his game.
“It was more of you got to earn the respect from him,” Harper said. “That is just how it is. I totally understand that. Of course, he is going to be tough on me, too. That is part of it. I absolutely love that.
“Any time someone is tough on me and tells me the truth about everything it is like my Pops. Every time I did something bad, he would tell me straight up what it was like even if it was bad.”
Harper said that by following Werth’s career and seeing what he had been through from the beginning, playing catcher early on and then moving later to the outfield, is something he can relate to.
Harper played catcher growing up and into his one season at the College of Southern Nevada. Werth was a first-round selection of the Baltimore Orioles in 1997. He made his major league debut in 2002 with the Toronto Blue Jays.
“He has been in this league for a long, long time,” Harper said. “He played in the minors for seven years, been through so many things with different organizations. He is a winner. He has been to the World Series, been through so many clutch situations. I have the utmost respect for him. I think it is going to be a lot of fun playing by his side for the next couple of years.”
Harper said Werth’s legacy of a Phillies championship team and National League Championship Series experienc, brings with it respect.
“He won a lot of big games with Phillies,” Harper said. “They were all over it with that whole team. I think he just needed something different. He’s never really talked about anything with the Phillies. It was more of all the great times he had. He loves Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and (Chase) Utley. He respects those guys more than anybody. It is a lot of fun talking about that. He is happy to be here so it is nice.”
Harper said that when Werth speaks in the clubhouse it carries some weight.
“J-Dub is always there for every single one of his guys on the club,” Harper said. “If there is something going on that he doesn’t like, he will address that with everybody. I think we need that. We need that veteran guy, we need that leader, that cornerstone in our organization that helps us out every single day and tells us what is going and how to do this and how to do that and how to go about things. J-Dub has been there and done a lot of things in his career like I said and what a better guy to learn from.”
Harper said he has learned a great deal from Werth about how to carry himself as a major leaguer, but he also believes that he is still that humble 18-year-old from Nevada.
Harper believes there still is a misconception that he is a spoiled kid that had a lot handed to him because of his raw baseball talent. It was a misconception I realized Harper was feeling dating back to our conversations while he was playing for the College of Southern Nevada in 2010.
“I feel like I am the same guy that I (was when drafted),” Harper said. “I think everybody is trying to look at it and seeing that I am not that bad guy that everybody says I am.”
In other words, not a spoiled guy?
“Absolutely, I think that followed me throughout high school and college. ... I think everybody is seeing the other side of me,” he said. “I think that everyone knows that I am going to play hard every night and give 110 percent every time I go out there.
“I think that is what J-Dub wants. J-Dub just wants you to play hard and treat the game with respect and always be there for your team. That is the biggest thing. Playing for your team and not playing for yourself. I have always done that. When I am playing well and my team is playing well, that is the best thing about it.”
Harper has excelled again this season for the Nationals. And by having a mentor, a big brother and a teammate like Werth in the same outfield has made an indelible impression on what kind of player Harper will be now and grow into for many seasons to come.