CINCINNATI — It’s probably not all that hard to understand why, but it seems whichever city the Washington Nationals roll into, the opposing team’s media corps are always interested in talking with Bryce Harper. Two road stops (outside his debut) does not a pattern make, but I’d doubt we’re going to see the novelty on Harper wear off for a while.
Either way, Harper was asked this afternoon by a group of Cincinnati media what he thought about his reception in most visiting ballparks, which generally isn’t all that friendly.
“I love getting booed,” Harper said. “I do.”
“It just makes me want to go out there and do better.”
Harper, of course, is no stranger to hostile receptions. At almost every stop he made in the minor leagues, opposing team’s fans let him have it. There’s no real good reason behind it, other than that Harper has been getting attention for his talents since before he was old enough to drive, and he’s mostly lived up to the hype.
Harper said he uses the boos. That they fire him up. He made sure to mention that he certainly loved being cheered by the home crowd last week but has no issue with opposing teams’ fans greeting him the way they do.
“That’s just fans loving their team and hating the other team,” Harper said.
Perhaps more interesting than watching opposing teams’ fans receive Harper as he makes his way to each different major league stadium, is watching opposing players receive him.
Several Phillies players referred to him as Babe Ruth with the Philadelphia reporters and, well, we all know what Cole Hamels had to say about him. But Shane Victorino and Harper are actually pretty friendly. The two workout and hit together in Las Vegas in the winters and Victorino has encouraged Harper both publicly and privately.
And even this afternoon in Cincinnati, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips seemed to send a shot into the Nationals’ dugout with a tweet that read: “Good afternoon Cincinnati… Today we host Babe Ruth & the Nationals for a 3 game series at GABP! See y’all there.”
It didn’t take much interpretation to figure out who he was talking about and the immediate reaction was to think that Phillips perhaps viewed Harper the same way someone like Hamels did. But as the Nationals came out to stretch this afternoon, Phillips made his way over to Harper and the two shared a verbose, friendly hug and a brief conversation.
There’s little doubt that Harper has been received with open arms in his own clubhouse, too. Harper shaved off his trademark “rat tail” hairstyle Friday afternoon so, now, sometimes it’s even hard to spot him as he goes about his business just like everyone else. One indication of how well he’s been accepted, Harper cited veteran leader Jayson Werth as one of the most influential people for him in making a smooth transition to the major leagues.
The boos probably won’t ever go away, especially not if Harper plays the way the Nationals expect and hope he will for a long time. But that’s OK with him, and his manager.
“That’s just part of the game,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson. “If you’re concentrating on a ballgame and you’re in a ballgame, you don’t really notice that.”