With Washington set to take on the Phillies 19 times over the course of the season, Nationals fans will still be seeing a lot of Bryce Harper. It’s part of the reason why folks were upset he ended up going with a division rival. If he signed with the Yankees, for instance, Washington would only see him every few years and perhaps in a World Series matchup. But his 13 year deal with Philly means tomorrow evening’s game will mark the first in a long line of games that will see the former Nats’ superstar sitting in the visiting dugout at Nats Park.
What makes Harper’s visit to DC even more intriguing is his first game as a visitor here will see him going up against the Nationals’ ace — Max Scherzer. The match up will come after Harper was initially boo’ed on Opening Day by Philly fans only to be warmly embraced has he ended up homering twice in the team’s opening series against the Atlanta Braves. Scherzer, for his part, had a tremendous outing during his first appearance in which he struck out 12 over the course of 7.2 innings even though Washington ending up losing the game 2-0.
Although it’s still very early in the season, it should also be noted that with the NL East projected to be very tight this year, the first few series the Nats have against their division rivals could prove to be crucial in the pennant race this fall.
But despite all the baseball implications, a lot of attention has been giving to the reception that Harper will receive when he arrives in DC. So far, it seems like there will be a bit of mixed reactions when the 26 year old makes his way onto the field for the first time with another organization.
Even Harper himself told USA Today he thinks it’ll be a mixed bag. “I really think it’s going to be mixed,” Harper said. “I think I’ll be cheered, I really do. But I think I’ll get booed, too. It’s part of sports, right?” He even made the acute observation that it would have been a little different if he had left after being traded instead of chasing a big free agent contract.
There are some rumors being circulated that the Nationals might honor Harper with a video tribute on the scoreboard at some point during the game — maybe right before his first at bat. This move would be classy and could be seen as fitting since his time in Washington helped the organization win some NL East titles and brought in a generation of new fans that otherwise wouldn’t be watching the sport.
But while some folks appreciate what the superstar did for the team, there’s been some discussion about how he never really thanked DC fans and has even made some comments about how he already appreciates being in Philly more than his time in Washington. Plus, his decision to turn down a 10 year, $300 million contract made it perfectly clear that he was more interested in signing a huge contract than remaining loyal to the team that originally drafted him.
Though if the Nationals and their fans aren’t exactly welcoming Harper back with open arms, he will have an army of supporters there. There are almost a dozen buses filled with Philly fans making their way down 95 to take in the game and at least 500 Philly fanatics will be sitting in right field to cheer on Harper. They’re trying to take over Nats Park like they did in their heyday before 2012 when the Nationals were horrible and the Phillies were annual contenders with sellout crowds in their home park.
No matter what happens on Tuesday, this will be the first of many battles between Harper and his former team. Time will only tell which organization will be better off with the move.