While today will be Bryce Harper’s official home debut, in some ways, yesterday was his true sporting debut in the nation’s capital.
Harper used his off-day to go shopping in the D.C. area, and then went on a little tour of the Mall, checking out the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Some fans noticed him walking by - “They saw the rat tail and the tattoos,” Harper joked - and asked him to take a few hacks in their pick-up softball game which was taking place nearby.
“I was like, ‘Nah, I don’t know about that,’ ” Harper said today. “They were like, ‘Come on!’ So I said, ‘OK, no problem.’ I just hung out a little bit.
“I was just trying to interact with the community and the fans a little bit. I like doing that kind of stuff.”
Tonight, Harper will run out to left field in the top of the first and will surely get a huge hand from the tens of thousands in the stands at Nats Park, a much different reaction than he received when making his major league debut on Saturday in Los Angeles, when he drew boos with every step he took.
During his pregame session with reporters, Harper was asked countless questions about what he needs to do in this stint with the Nationals to show that he’s worthy of sticking around, but he insisted that he feels like he doesn’t have to prove anything, and will just go about his business each day that he comes to the park.
“There’s a lot of guys at my age that have gone up and down,” Harper said. “(Angels prospect Mike) Trout did it last year and there’s a couple guys that have done it. I’m just going to enjoy my time as much as I can up here.”
In some ways, Harper says he’s more at ease playing in major league games, because he doesn’t have to constantly worry about impressing Nationals scouts or wondering when he’ll get the call to head up to the bigs. Now, he can just go play at the level at which he feels he belongs.
“When I got to L.A., I got really comfortable. I got up here and I was really comfortable with things,” Harper said. “In Triple-A, it was like, ‘I’ve got to prove I’ve got to do stuff to get up to the big leagues,’ because I wanted to be here so bad. And once I got up here, it was like a calm went over my body, and said, ‘Hey, you’re here. Just play your game that you know how to play and don’t worry about anything else around you.’”
Manager Davey Johnson went through a similar type of situation with Darryl Strawberry, who was the No. 1 overall pick by the Mets in the 1980 draft. Johnson said that with Strawberry, he noticed a higher level of play once he got to the big leagues, partially because he was more focused, and partially because the pressure was relieved once he got to the majors.
“I think a young player with a lot of potential, they think their goal is the big leagues. And whatever level they’re at, a lot of times, they try to do too much,” Johnson said. “They think they need to hit .600 or hit balls 500 feet. I feel the conditions are better up here. They’re more apt to try and trick you at Double-A, Triple-A, and especially if you’re a No. 1 draft pick, they’re going at you thinking, ‘If I could get this guy out, people will pay attention.’
“There’s all kinds of factors going on, but I do think the driving force of getting to the big leagues puts more pressure on you at that level, trying to do too much. And that’s the one thing, to be a good hitter, you have to stay within yourself.”