With it being a Monday night and rain falling throughout the afternoon and into the evening, there wasn’t a huge crowd on hand at Nationals Park Monday.
But in the third inning, when Bryce Harper bounded into the dugout after his first major league home run, those in attendance stayed on their feet, kept clapping and called for the 19-year-old rookie to take a bow.
It was all set up to be a great Nationals moment, similar to the one Stephen Strasburg had when he took his curtain call out of the same dugout during his major league debut in 2010. The only problem was that Harper - conscious of proper baseball etiquette and not showing up his opponents - wasn’t sure whether it’d be right for him to emerge and acknowledge the fans.
“I was running down the stairs high-fiving everyone,” Harper said. “Everyone started cheering and whatnot, and I was just standing there waiting like, should I go? Nah, I better not. Don’t do it. Then (Jayson) Werth was like, ‘Go, get up there, kid.’”
So Harper came out to the top step of the Nats’ dugout, pointed to the fans in all directions and soaked in the applause.
“It was pretty cool,” Harper said. “I was pretty excited about that.”
The homer came on a 2-1 slider from Padres starter Tim Stauffer, whose name will likely be the answer to a trivia question for years to come. Harper struck the ball cleanly, watched it fly out to center and saw it land up the batter’s eye, about 420 feet away from home plate.
This is a moment Harper had probably been thinking about for some time, but 45 minutes after the game had ended, he still wasn’t sure exactly how to describe the experience.
“I don’t even know. I guess I’ve got no words for it,” Harper said. “It’s just another home run in the book, I guess. Hopefully, it’s one of many.”
Harper’s trot around the bases was a quick one. Actually wasn’t much of a trot at all, and was probably closer to a full sprint.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Harper took just 17.07 seconds to touch home plate after his blast, marking the second-fastest home run jaunt this season behind the Brewers’ Carlos Gomez, who apparently didn’t know his ball had left the yard until he got to third base.
The quick trip around the bases is something Harper says he learned from Pete Rose, who “tried to get around every single bag before the ball landed,” Harper said. Again, it comes back to the rookie trying not to rub his opponents’ faces in the fact that he just went yard off of them.
“I always have (done that) since I could remember,” Harper said. “Never show up the pitcher. I never have. I never have wanted to. The only time I would do that is if you mess with my team. That would be the only moment I would do that. You never want to disrespect that guy on the mound. He’s been there and done things. It’s just how I’ve always felt.”
Because Harper’s home run landed safely on the grass batter’s eye, no fan was able to get to it and it was easily retrieved by a Nats employee. When Harper came into the clubhouse after the game, the ball was waiting for him in his locker with the words “1st home run” sprawled across it.
Not the sentimental type, Harper said he doesn’t plan to put the ball in a case or do anything special with it. He’ll just toss it where he keeps a few other special baseball mementos - a cardboard box in his house.
Wait, really? A cardboard box?
“Yeah seriously,” Harper said. “All my stuff’s just in a box. My posters, magazines. I don’t really care.”
That cardboard box might get a little bit heavier in the years ahead. After all, there might be a few more souvenir baseballs and curtain calls to come.