VIERA, Fla. - Let the circus begin.
Bryce Harper arrived at Nationals camp today, walking onto the practice fields to an audible murmur as fans realized the 18-year-old was walking past. He played catch with his new teammates for about 15 minutes, tossing to outfielder Roger Bernadina, before shagging fly balls in right field taking batting practice for the first time.
Harper hit four homers in about 40 swings, splashing a few of them into a pond behind the right field wall at one of the team's training fields, as assistant general manager Bob Boone, minor league operations director Doug Harris and special assistant Davey Johnson watched. He was met, in a development that had to make Stephen Strasburg the happiest guy in the world, by several dozen autograph seekers as he came off the field, and a handful of them tailed Harper on the quarter-mile walk back to the Nationals clubhouse like a gallery following a golfer down the 18th fairway.
Last year's No. 1 overall pick won't have his first official workout with the team until tomorrow, but his presence was felt on Monday.
How often Nationals fans will get to see him in games this spring, however, remains to be seen.
Manager Jim Riggleman has said a handful of times this spring already that the reason Harper is in major league camp is because he's got a major league contract, and therefore has to be in camp. It's been easy to read between the lines and infer that Riggleman means Harper wouldn't be in big league camp if not for his contract. And after Harper hit on Monday, Riggleman said as much.
"At 18 years old, he's here because he's on the 40-man roster," Riggleman said. "Very seldom would (fans) get an opportunity to see a Bryce Harper, or back in the day, a (Darryl) Strawberry. They wouldn't get to see them because they went to camp on a minor league roster. ... If that's what they want to do is see him, they're fortunate they're getting a chance to see him a year early, really. This would be a camp that most guys would be fortunate to get in next year, not this year."
Riggleman said he probably won't start Harper in too many games, though the outfielder will play in a few games. Harper might start in a road game to give veterans a day off, Riggleman said.
"In his week or 10 days, he'll get some at-bats," Riggleman said.
Harper was not made available for comment on Monday.