Rachel Levitin: A different vibe for Harper’s home debut

The District’s baseball skepticism is warranted. A double dose of 100-loss seasons after 30-plus years of no baseball in town will do that to a person. Those miserable 2008 and 2009 seasons are also what brought the Nationals to this point in time.

Baseball in Washington is at crossroads of sorts now that Bryce Harper has made his home debut. With the media hoopla surrounding the young stud of a hitter, it wasn’t far-fetched to think that the atmosphere at the ballpark might rival that of Stephen Strasburg’s debut in June 2010.

It didn’t, though.

The electricity in the stands and on the field didn’t feel as urgent as it did in Strasburg’s debut. Here’s the biggest difference: Strasburg’s a pitcher who debuted in June after several months in the minors. He joined a squad coming off two 100-loss season. It was as if the Nationals and Nats fans deemed him to be their Midas, believing everything he touched would turn to gold. Harper is no Midas, but he’ll carve his own niche soon enough.

Harper was called up to help a slumping Nats offense while a portion of their hard-hitting manpower and reliable bullpen workhorses sit on the disabled list. It’s hard to say what was more surprising in his home debut - his lack of a hit or his defensive output. His performance aside, I’ve never seen Nats fans more supportive. There was a feeling that everyone in the stands had his back, as if everyone who bought a ticket was somehow a member of Harper’s extended family.
Either way, his new-found cousins took to rooting for the 19-year-old phenom despite the evening’s offensive shortcomings.

From the moment his name was announced, fans took to their feet to show their support. They even went as far as to stand for the entirety of his first at-bat,. When he struck out, Everyone cheered anyway. And when home plate umpire Jeff Nelson called Arizona’s John McDonald safe on a play where Harper launched a near 300-foot throw on target from left field to the plate, the park erupted in disbelief. It was a unique moment that will define his first home game with Washington for the long haul.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation’s capital as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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